Wednesday, October 10th, 2007
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.
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