Thursday, June 7th, 2007
The title of this post, just to be clear, is in no way descriptive of the show in question. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, they put out what is arguably the best album of the year so far in Boxer – then they came to town Tuesday night and put on what was arguably the best show I’d seen all year at the Opera House. If The National can pick up a few more RBIs, they could well make a run for the indie rock triple crown this year.
Openers for this tour were Montreal’s Shapes & Sizes and as a pairing, it’s a head-scratcher. I’ve listened to both their records including the newest, Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner, and now seen them live and the best thing I can say about their deliberately awkward, fractured, deconstructed songcraft is that I just don’t get it. At a few points in their set I heard a semblance of a pop hook creep out but those were quickly buried under frantic key changes, tempo shifts, random bursts of hand-clapping and a steadfast determination to avoid anything resembling a chorus. I dunno.
The National’s last Toronto show last March was somewhat marred by Matt Berninger’s ill-advised decision to wear a Cincinnati Bengals t-shirt, prompting one drunken mook in the audience to attempt to loudly discuss football with the singer the entire night. Thankfully, this time Berninger elected to keep it simple with white pants, shirt and tie but I digress – this isn’t about The National’s sartorial choices, it’s about the music.
Playing to a sold-out house, the six-piece band (violinist/keyboardist/unofficial sixth man Padme Newsome was along for the tour) stepped up and made a compelling argument for themselves as best goddamn band in the world right now. Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but only a bit. Tight, taut and intense, The National powered through an impressive 19 songs in an hour and a half with a set list drawing heavily from Boxer and Alligator, with a couple nods to earlier works Cherry Tree and Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers. Live, the Boxer material lost a bit of the album’s texture and orchestration but that was more than compensated for in more inventive guitarwork from the brothers Dessner and energy from the band overall. Similarly, the more overt rockers – “Mr November”, “Abel” and “Murder Me Rachael” – were amped up further and were quite simply explosive.
One of the things that surprised me the most on the evening was the audience – for whatever reason I still had the impression of The National as a somewhat underground band, effusive critical acclaim for their last two albums notwithstanding, yet here they were selling out a venue two and a half times the size of the one they played just over a year ago. And from the audience sample in my immediate vicinity, these weren’t just the curious or cool kids out to be seen – these were fans. Screaming, know-all-the-words-and-singing-along genuine fans. And by god did we scream and sing along. So good. So so so so good.
The Globe & Mail and Torontoist also have reviews of the show. The band made the rounds with the Canadian press, talking to eye, Exclaim! and Chart. There’s also articles on the band from The New York Post, Paste, The Detroit Free Press and The Riverfront Times while Pitchfork solicits a list of this and that from Matt Berninger.
Spinner also has an Interface session with the band and I was happy to learn that they’re recording a Daytrotter session next week – more free, live sessions = good. Like check out the live version of “Squalor Victoria” below, taken from a White Session recorded for French Radio last week. The Rawking Refuses To Stop has the whole session available to download, which you should do posthaste.
Photos: The National, Shapes & Sizes @ The Opera House – June 5, 2007
MP3: The National – “Fake Empire”
MP3: The National – “Squalor Victoria” (White Session)
MP3: Shapes & Sizes – “Alone/Alive”
MP3: Shapes & Sizes – “Head Movin'”
Video: The National – “Mistaken For Strangers” (YouTube)
Video: A Skin, A Night preview
MySpace: The National
MySpace: Shapes & Sizes
Billboard reports on some of the controversy surrounding Wilco’s decision to license their music to Volkswagen to use in ads. I personally see no problem with this whatsoever but that’s just me. No word on whether the band will be touring across America in those old-school VW vans. River City Reader talks to John Stirratt about the current lineup of the band and also talks to Alan Sparhawk of their tourmates on this jaunt, Low. Said bill arrives in Toronto for a show at Massey Hall on June 30.
So NxNE kicks off in earnest tonight and as a sponsor, NOW is naturally dedicated a goodly portion of this week’s issue to previewing it. If you’re still looking for things to see or more info about the performers, that’s where you want to go. Also check out eye and The Toronto Star and blogTO’s recommendations and Torontoist’s picks for Friday night. Chart has a chat with tonight’s date at the Horseshoe, Buffalo Tom, while NOW profiles Voxtrot, doing a double-header at Sneaky Dee’s on Friday night. eye talks to Fountains Of Wayne, at Lee’s on Sunday night.
More shows announced! Hardcore legend Ian MacKaye’s latest project, The Evens, will be at the Whipper Snapper Gallery on June 13 while instru-metal outfit Pelican are at Lee’s Palace on July 21. If you miss Handsome Furs’ NxNE show at the Comfort Zone tomorrow night or just want to see them at a venue a little less, well, disgusting, they’re back on July 31 for a show at Lee’s. Also coming to Lee’s – UK brother act The Cribs on August 7 and on August 15, Brooklyn synth-pop trio Au Revoir Simone (who are also opening up both Voxtrot shows tomorrow), tickets $10. Still with the Lee’s Palace announcements, August 28 sees Stereo Total and The Octopus Project in town ($13.50) and the next evening, The Magic Numbers ($16.50). Finally, looking way off and not at Lee’s at all, Iceland’s Mum are at the Opera House on November 2 – their new record Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy is out September 24