I admit it, I'm lazy. I'm like a four-year-old, shiny things get my attention. So I like bands with style, gimmicks, "bits." We only wear red, black, and white! We have crazy fake wings and giant sunglasses! We sound like we're from the 80s! It grabs me, so I tune in. The National don't care. They are not those bands. And so: six middle-aged Brooklynites in Ross Dress For Less shirts shamble onto the Bimbo's stage and ease into "Start a War," an understated track from their new album Boxer, and I'm searching for a way in. Are lead singer Matt Berninger's half-sung half-spoken lyrics a reference to greats like Leonard Cohen, or is he just sleepy? Are the chiming, open guitar chords reminiscent of U2, or just simplistic? Suddenly, the singer steps back, and the guitars hit a strange, surprising note; the song jumps up a notch, to somewhere more haunting, more disconcerting. These are the moments the National seems to live for, and a key to understanding the band: "Stick with us," they seem to say, "and you'll be rewarded."
The show isn't perfect. Their second song, "Mistaken for Strangers," seems underwhelming, kind of like "Interpol Lite," and I wonder why the drums are so quiet. Right on cue, somebody shouts "more drums!" when they finish. But maybe that guy and me are wrong: the National don't want to be Interpol. They want their brooding, subtle songs to creep up on you, not bash you over the head, and if that means the drums are kept a bit down in the mix, so be it.
Who's that kooky guy with the violin? Padma Newsome, who isn't technically in the band, and you can tell: he jumps around the stage, plays his violin ukulele-style, and bangs a tambourine like his life depends on it. It's an interesting counterpoint to this most thoughtful of bands; almost like, well, something shiny to grab your attention. Either way, the National deserves it.
Upcoming US tour dates and some videos after the jump.