The National Go Big at the Armory

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 06:28 pm

Longevity in the music industry is hard to come by. In this ever-turbulent business, even the buzziest acts can find their time over in the blink of an eye. There are plenty of reasons: quickly shifting trends, burnout, and complicated band dynamics, for example. But most musical careers don’t last very long, in the limelight or otherwise. While unfortunate, this puts into perspective how special it is when an act builds a lengthy career.

The National is still humming twenty-plus years deep in their stellar career, building a legacy that rivals nearly any rock band of this century. During Wednesday night’s thrilling show at the Armory, the band showcased their deep catalog and considerable performance chops, displaying much of what’s propelled them to this point.

Opening act The Beths haven’t been around quite as long, but they left an impression nonetheless. Ever likable, the New Zealand band provided a melodic, punchy counterpoint to the headliner’s larger-scale catharsis. Though some of their material was breezy, their best moments effortlessly wove in more intense elements, helping them capture and hold the crowd’s attention. It was a strong opening set and laid the foundation for the rest of the evening.

Photo: Kathleen Ambre

The National’s main set opened with four songs from their ninth and most recent record, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. Featuring several high-profile collaborators (including Sufjan Stevens and Taylor Swift), that album was released in April to solid reviews. To the band and audience’s credit, the new songs went over well, especially “Eucalyptus,” which foreshadowed the swells that would highlight and ultimately define the show.

Photo: Kathleen Ambre

Blending favorites with deep cuts, the group dipped deeper into their catalog after the first four songs. One of the most interesting setlist inclusions was “Slipped,” a Trouble Will Find Me rarity. Some veteran acts can struggle to satisfy, but The National struck a nice balance of songs, putting together a show pleasing to even the most jaded fan. The run of “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” and “I Need My Girl” was particularly fan-friendly.

Photo: Kathleen Ambre

While the setlist was strong and the musical execution stellar, I was most impressed by the sonic and visual scale. At the show’s emotional heights, the band’s material felt huge. Though singer Matt Berninger is known for his often-understated baritone on record, he truly comes alive in person. One of the thrills of seeing The National perform is watching moments where the music crescendos and Berninger lets loose.

Photo: Kathleen Ambre

These climactic, cathartic moments were augmented by an exceptional visual production. The venue was a perfect fit, small enough for the audience to feel connected but large enough to accommodate a production on that scale. Songs like “Mr. November” and “Terrible Love” are great in any setting but felt massive in this context. The show concluded with an acoustic rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” with the audience singing every word, a final memorable moment in a show full of them.

Photo: Kathleen Ambre

Written by Aaron Williams


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