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Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Boxer

Random things I was giving thanks for this past Monday – good health and fortune to my friends and family, that The National were playing that night not 10 minutes from home and that there weren’t telemarketers stupid enough to try and sell me a cellphone plan at dinnertime on Thanksgiving day. Two out of three ain’t bad.

The National were back in town barely four months since their last visit and considering they’d easily sold out the sizable Phoenix, there was obviously no shortage of demand. Support on this tour was Doveman, who on record is largely the solo project of Thomas Bartlett, his piano and some studio alchemy. His new album With My Left Hand I Raise The Dead blends Barlett’s whispery, strained vocals with Sparklehorse-y ambiance that’s mesmerizing, if you’re in the right mood, but mostly quiet. Which is why I was wondering how such a hushed sort of act would fare in front of a crowd of 1000 punters in a town not really known for being quiet at shows, even if they were partly doped on tryptophan.

This was addressed by enlisting 3/5 of The National to be the backing band – a move which not only guaranteed the audience would be respectful but that things would be good and loud. Unfortunately, things were a little too loud and Bartlett’s vocals and piano were largely overwhelmed by the Dessner brothers’ guitarwork. It all still made for some great musical performance but it didn’t do justice to the Doveman material. It deserves and demands a quieter setting – maybe next time.

For the most part, this show wasn’t terribly different from last time, which is fine – that show was fantastic, and so was this. But there were a few things this time around that stuck with me that bear mentioning. First, “Abel”. Being one of the two all-out rockers in the band’s usual set list, it’s a crowd favourite but this time, coming mid-set, what stood out the most to me was how out of place it sounded amidst the rest of their songs. Whereas most of their repertoire now is more mid-paced and more concerned with exploring nuance and texture rather than tension and release, I found “Abel” to sound brutish and bludgeoning in comparison. Its inclusion seemed perfunctory rather than based on merit, a concession to the audience but a song they’ve since outgrown.

The other moment that really stood out was during “Fake Empire” when, during the chorus, I looked around and realized everyone around me was singing along. Not loudly, not in a “I’m a big fan and I know all the words” way, but quietly and almost to themselves, as if compelled. The net result was a sort of ghostly choral effect that really created a vibe I’d not felt at a show before, a sort of unconscious communion between the band and the audience. I don’t know if anyone else noticed but for me, it was a “wow” moment. This is what this band can do.

And finally, during the encore, they announced they were going to have a guest onstage, a local who was a hero of theirs – Hayden, whom they let take the mic for a run through of his “Dynamite Walls”. The National’s heroes are Bruce Springsteen and Hayden. Go figure.

And I’m finding myself unable to come up with a tidy way to wrap up this review, so I’m just going to leave it as is. My third time this year seeing one of my favourite bands, on tour for one of the best albums of the year? I guess I’m just out of words. But I point you to eye for another review.

Thanks.

Photos: The National, Doveman @ The Phoenix – October 8, 2007
MP3: The National – “Fake Empire”
MP3: Doveman – “…& Sunrise Medley”
Video: The National – “Mistaken For Strangers” (YouTube)
Video: The National – “Apartment Story” (YouTube)
Video: Doveman – “Chasing Clouds” (YouTube)
MySpace: The National
MySpace: Doveman

By : Frank Yang at 8:44 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. pollyesther says:

    I love that your October 10 entry makes absolutely NO mention of "In Rainbows". LOL!

  2. Frank says:

    In what?

  3. Roland says:

    I like the National so much more than Radiohead right now. Shame all three shows are sold out this week. Thanks for the review!

  4. marc says:

    I don’t know what I was expecting from the gig… started off on a sour note when I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera in b/c I didn’t have a media pass… what that hell?! Luckily I was able to put my stuff in my car.

    The National didn’t blow me out of the water and their songs seemed to meld into one, I could see that they found the formula that works for them and didn’t go far from it. That being said, I enjoyed the show (especially the violinist) and LOVED the encore with Hayden. Too cool! But having not been in the Phoenix for a few years… I was reminded why I don’t like the bigger venues. Too many people.

  5. Chuck says:

    Dammit, The National were not 10 minutes away from my house either, but I was dumb and didn’t get a ticket with my other friends.
    I regret it now, mainly because I loooove "Dynamite Walls" and it woulda blew my mind.

  6. bernita Rebeiro says:

    Not 10 minutes from my house as well! Do we all live in the same place or what?
    I only really started to get into it by Squalor Victoria – people keep saying there are no rockers on this album, but live I think that one just about counts. The encore with Hayden was an excellent suprise too. I also noticed the singing along during Fake Empire, I also think it was just as you described. I think I saw you (judging by your pictures) up front – with a Canon SLR? I was behind and to the left.
    Anyway, seeing one of my favourite bands for the first time ever – I’m thrilled.

  7. Sarah says:

    It was a great show, but I was really disappointed in the sound.
    I was in the balcony at the Phoenix on Monday and Matt’s vocals were muddy and I barely made out any of the inter-song chat. Not impressed, but not surprised. I’m really starting to hate the Phoenix.

    It’s not the band, I don’t think. I saw them on Sunday night at Le National in Montreal, and you could hear every single word clearly. They actually thanked their sound person that night, but the venue tends to be good for sound, Sunset Rubdown and Black Mountain were really strong on Saturday.

  8. Tug says:

    When I saw them in Atlanta back in September, I noticed the same thing about the crowd singing along. I wrote more about it here – http://gogoindierocket.blog