Live Review: The National – Irving Plaza, NYC

The beer can that plummeted from the Irving Plaza balcony into the audience and struck Matt Berninger (The National) in the head several years ago, foreshadowed the blinding intensity of the house spotlight that he would later feel from a different point of view at one of NYC’s top live music venues. Earlier this winter, the Dessner and Devendorf brothers brought their expert skills in orchestrating the boldly dark music to Matt’s honest, raw lyrics.

The band opened with Nobody Else Will Be There from their latest album Sleep Well Beast, which was recently awarded a GRAMMY for Best Alternative Album. The song made the audience extra attentive because of its hypnotizing tempo and edgy vibe. Next the band performed The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness, which injected a bit more energy into the room with a rocking, faster drumbeat. During the following song, Walk It Back, Bryce Dessner absolutely stole the show with his shredding guitar solo at the end.

Guilty Party one of the more memorable, and signature National vibe songs from Sleep Well Beast. The monotonous, eerie beat on the song kept listeners at their feet and ready to sing and dance along. The band followed with Don’t Swallow The Cap Blood – one of the standout songs from their sixth album Trouble Will Find Me. This song kept the audience hooked with a catchy beat and memorable lyrics.

Bloodbuzz Ohio – a fan favorite from their fifth album High Violet – is a special song to hear live because the energy levels throughout the song build and settle, creating a more interesting song structure and concert experience. Then they shifted back to the Trouble Will Find Me era to play I Need My Girl. Every fan hopes to hear their favorite song by that band when they’re at a a concert and many National fans got their wish for this song.

Towards the middle of the set they performed their rendition of the Grateful Dead’s Peggy O. After this cover song they continued the rest of the set with a fun selection of original tracks. Conversation 16 got the audience back on their feet with a driving drumbeat and heavy instrumentals. Next came the softer, gentle songs from Sleep Well Beast called Dark Side Of The Gym. The piano chord progression on this song is one of the tenderest melodies that the band has ever written.

The band whipped out Lemonworld, which served as the biggest surprise and deepest cut of night. Although the album version’s relaxed, slower tempo puts listeners in a dazed mood, the live version brings new levels of energy and excitement. Next was Slow Show – a fan favorite and classic from the early album Boxer, which features Aaron Dessner strumming boldly on his acoustic guitar.

The band began winding down the set with Born To Beg, one of the new gems from Sleep Well Beast. Day I Die followed and continued to lure fans into the theme of the general new song vibe. There’s no other National moment that pumps us up more intensely than Bryce Dessner’s haunting yet enticing beginning piano chords of Fake Empire, and the crowd at Irving Plaza that night went absolutely wild. Next was a new song called Rylan which Berninger introduced as a “song we don’t know how to finish.” Another exciting live National moment is when Berninger storms his way from the stage into the audience during the exhilarating Mr November.

The second to last song of the night was Terrible Love which warns listeners that the end of the night is near, but keeps them on their feet with raging melodies and rhymes. The final song of the night, About Today, was a deep cut into the National’s repertoire and reminded fans of their growth from their early days into the indie rock stars they’ve blossomed into. The National is a must see band with a lot of excitement and entertainment to share with their massive fan base.

Scott J. Herman