Tag Archives: The National

LIVE: The National, The Shrine, Los Angeles, CA

By Gabriel Mathews

The Shrine Auditorium is a large, Schintz-­like venue located on USC’s sprawling campus south of Downtown Los Angeles. This means I had to drop a twenty dollar “contribution” to use the University’s incredibly crowded parking structure. That was a letdown.

You know what wasn’t a letdown, though? Mistaken For Strangers, the now­ in­ theaters movie about the National made by frontman Matt Berninger’s little brother Tom, which was screened as the opener for this show. I’m no film critic, especially when it comes to documentaries, especially especially when it’s unclear how much of what’s documented was “real.” I will say, though, that the film was utterly hilarious, moving, and endlessly charming. Tom is a real winner of a character, or at least the version of himself he chooses to show us is, and the band comes off as a group of lovable goofballs. The main takeaway point here is that, for those of you who think of the National as a super self­ serious, dour, no-­fun0-­zone type of band, check out this movie (Not to mention their hilarious videos for “Conversation 16,” “Graceless,” “Sea Of Love,” Bob’s Burgers… I could go on.) Also, for those of you entirely unfamiliar with the National, check out this movie. And, like, all of their recorded output.

The band took stage about half ­an ­hour after the end of the film. Sitting in the I-­got-to-Ticketmaster­-a-little-­late seats, it was plain to see that the National really are a major band, in the sense that I was surrounded by middle-­aged moms, finance bros, and everyone in between, and they all knew the words. Six albums in, the Brooklyn-­by­-way-­of­-Cincinnati band is finally an American institution.

If there was previously any doubt, their opening run proved that they fully deserve the acclaim. Not many bands could pull off a run like “Don’t Swallow The Cap” followed by “I Should Live In Salt” followed by “Mistaken For Strangers” followed by “Sea Of Love” followed by “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and still play for another un­padded hour. It was clear the National realized this, resting on their laurels a bit with the pristine “Hard To Find” after that five­star streak.

I couldn’t really see a whole lot from my vantage point, but as far as I could tell, everyone in the band was in fine form. Bryce Dessner pulled a fun stunt during the otherwise sedate “I Need My Girl” by taking a second guitar by the butt and tapping it’s headstock on the ground for a nice clang every once in a while. His twin brother Aaron bounced back and forth between guitar and piano with ease. Matt Berninger’s voice has notably improved over the past few years as he’s quit smoking. His other favorite habit still remains something of a problem though—about halfway through the set, the band started up oldie “All The Wine” to great fanfare, only for Matt to mess up the meter two lines in, throwing a beat between “Big wet bottle in my fist / Big wet rose in my teeth” where this is none. They tried again, but he made the same mistake in the same place, and called the song off. “It wasn’t me, it was the six of them who fucked up, I’m pretty sure,” he quipped, right as the band launched into the triumphant Alligator cut “Abel”. Maybe try just half a bottle of wine per show, Matt?

One of the National’s greatest strengths is subtly upping the ante over the course of a song with slight tonal shifts. Live, it’s ever more clear that drummer Bryan Devendorf is the man most responsible for this trick, his endlessly impressive and expressive playing being as much a focal point as Matt’s singing. His skills shone most bright as he effectively led the band through extended outros on “Squalor Victoria” and “Humiliation.” As Matt wanders the stage moving his hands awkwardly during instrumental passages, you feel it’s Bryan who really takes the reins.

Early on, Matt dedicated “I Should Live In Salt” to his newly­-beloved brother — “He thinks this song is about salt. You should know it’s about you, Tom.” He later upped the cuteness factor by dedicating “I Need My Girl” to his wife, Carin Besser (Alligator‘s Karen, though it’s pronounced “Corinne,” who knew?), who helped Tom edit the movie and holds an executive producer credit along with both Berningers. Naturally, the band hit all of their LA references with “Humiliation,” “England,” and the stellar “Pink Rabbits” all eliciting major cheers.

While there are certain songs I would’ve loved to hear and didn’t (“Conversation 16,” guys?), and while their back catalog was criminally underrepresented (two songs from Alligator, four from Boxer, nothing from the first two or Cherry Tree), I can’t say there’s anything I wish they hadn’t played, which is yet another testament to the depth of this band’s oeuvre. The one thing I did really feel the lack of was multi-­instrumentalist Padma Newsome, whose violin shredding was the highlight of the show I caught at the Crystal back on the Boxer tour. That and front row seats.

Though the Dessner brothers kept trying to get the crowd clapping along to little avail (we just wanted to listen), the most thrilling bit of crowd interaction outside of Matt’s obligatory aisle ­walk during “Mr. November” was hinted at during “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” as the band dropped out for a bar or two and I could hear the entire auditorium singing “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees.” The National emphasized this second voice on “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” which has replaced “About Today” as their standard set closer in recent years. This rendition found them totally unplugged, with minimal miking on two acoustic guitars, the horns, and some minimal percussion. I’ve never loved “Vanderlyle,” but this campfire singalong had me rapt. By the end, Matt had flailed too enthusiastically and knocked over his microphone, and all you could hear was the entire Shrine, explaining it all to the geeks.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

LIVE: The National, Edgefield Amphitheater, Portland, OR

By Hollister Dixon

The National are a band that I’m never going to stop loving. The prevailing ethos of a great many rock bands is to simply try to stay young, but for the bulk of their career, The National have tried their hardest to, simply put, make the process of getting older more tolerable. Frontman/songwriter Matt Berninger is one of the greatest modern songwriters, and for four albums in a row now, he’s found solace in the highs and lows of not only becoming a fully-fledged adult, but also of being a bit lonely sometimes. This is a band that gets a bad rep for being depressing, but to write the band off on such shallow grounds is to do a tremendous disservice to a band that spins tales of adulthood, but does it in a way that makes it look outrageously easy.

The day of the band’s Edgefield Amphitheater performance was rain-soaked and cold. I’ve been coming out to Edgefield for four years now, and each and every visit is in weather that could be described as “punishingly hot.” As such, coming out and discovering exactly why the tickets say “RAIN OR SHINE” is a strange experience, but it doesn’t dampen a single spirit in the crowd. When I arrive at the venue, I hear an incredibly over-the-top rendition of “Boys Don’t Cry” being performed, and before I can wonder which stage-hand might be doing it, I’m treated to an sloppy but nevertheless beautiful runthrough of “Don’t Swallow The Cap”, from the band’s new album Trouble Will Find Me. Matt Berninger has always had a sense of humor, but it’s always nice to see him work with it.

The band currently touring with The National are the Scottish troupe Frightened Rabbit. I’ve admired the band since their fantastic sophomore album The Midnight Organ Fight, but for whatever reason never managed to catch. “The weather has become decidedly Scottish today,” frontman Scott Hutchinson tells the drenched crowd as he picks up his guitar. The crowd laughs, because what else is there to do in weather like this? And for their dedication, they’re treated to a ten-song mix of the band’s last three albums, including “My Backwards Walk”, a Midnight Organ Fight track that was written as a companion to The National’s own “Fake Empire” (the band regularly covers the song before playing their own song live), and “The Modern Leper” (which brought about my first tears-in-eyes moment of the night), as well as fantastic cuts from this year’s Pedestrian Verse. More than a few people made comparisons to U2, and as a fan of both bands, I can’t help but see the comparison as an immense compliment. For a band that makes incredibly personal songs, it’s amazing to see them perform them for a sold-out amphitheater and lot lose any of the emotional impact.

Comments about the rain abounded on the day, and none got a bigger cheer than the first by Matt Berninger as The National took the stage. “You’re all soaked! Why did you get here so early? We’re all warm and dry up here!” he said, taking his rightful spot, front and center, with a bottle of wine. The thing you don’t really realize about The National is that they are something of a hit factory. Looking back on the setlist for the evening, you’ll find obvious songs missing, and the songs they didn’t play would have made for a compelling set. They hit every single beat you’d hope they would, from “Fake Empire” to “Mr. November” to the impeccable High Violet closer “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, used here to close the show itself. I kept waiting for a song that felt disposable, but it never came, not even considering the fact that they only skipped three songs from their amazing-but-not-astounding new album Trouble Will Find Me. They even threw in a cover of Perfume Genius’ “Learning” for good measure during the encoreAnd what of the songs they didn’t play? Missing were songs like “Secret Meeting”, “Mistaken for Strangers”, and “Anyone’s Ghost”: songs that seem like no-brainers for a National set are dropped in favor of… well, other songs that are no-brainers for a National set. This is a band that has been riding a wave of goodwill for exactly four albums, and each and every album feels like a new treasure to hold onto, which bleeds over into the live experience.

It’s hard to really pin down exactly why The National works so well in a live setting. They are purveyors of semi-hazy confessional rock music, and yet each and every piece of the band adds something truly unique to the proceedings. During this tour, the band is toying around with using a screen behind them, alternating between nondescript visuals and band-cam footage of each of the members playing. Throughout most songs, the latter portion of the visuals would switch between members, but one stand-out use was the camera being trained on drummer Bryan Devendorf for almost all of “Squalor Victoria”, subtly revealing the fact that his rhythms take a song that is merely very good, and turns it into something extraordinary. Herein lies the true joy of seeing this band play: you get the chance to peel away – and, if you choose to, isolate – each layer in the band, an discover for yourself just how important they all are to the music.

There are a lot of things I could ramble on about when talking about this band playing live, but if I were to, this review would be three times as long as it already is. The National are a band that will never stop being known as a “grower”, and though this is rarely meant as an insult, it’s something that we should really stop saying about this band. The fact of the matter is, The National are a band that feel completely timeless, and each and every fan of modern music, if they’re still sleeping on this band, would do well to wake up and start paying attention to one of the greatest bands in America.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Episode 49: Noise

A million thanks to both Ron Mason Gassaway and Krist Krueger for stopping by! You can dig into this episode above, or download it HERE!


  • Noise
  • What makes people produce noise, and what separates pure “noise” from noise music?
  • How does it bleed into other genres?
  • What are our own personal stories, when relating to a love of noise music?
  • What bands could have been considered “noise musicians” in their day, yet are completely normal by today’s standards?
  • When is noise too noisy?


  • The Blow – “Invisible”
  • Ron Mason Gassaway – “Spider’s Kiss”
  • SNDTRKR – “Inglorious Finale”

Bands Mentioned:

  • The Blow
  • Kim Gordon / Bill Nace / Body/Head
  • Thurston Moore / Chelsea Light Moving
  • Lee Ranaldo / Sonic Youth
  • Jello Biafra / Dead Kennedys
  • Paul Simon
  • Art Garfunkel
  • Magic Mouth
  • Janet Weiss
  • Stephen Malkmus
  • Matt Berninger / The National
  • Scott Hutchinson / Frightened Rabbit
  • Lou Barlow / Sebadoh
  • Yo La Tengo
  • Sky Ferreira
  • Zachary Cole Smith / DIIV
  • Kurt Cobain / Nirvana
  • Courtney Love
  • Lou Reed / John Cale / Velvet Underground
  • Boston Foreigner
  • The Men of Porn
  • Ron Gassaway / Party Killer
  • Bob Dylan
  • Kenny G
  • Gato Barbieri
  • Dollar Brand
  • The Birthday Party
  • Public Image Ltd.
  • John Wiese
  • The Beatles
  • Wilco
  • Prince
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen
  • Merzbow
  • Phil Spector
  • Steve Albini
  • A Shot in the Dark
  • Krist Krueger / SNDTRKR
  • Self Group
  • India.Arie
  • Nels Cline
  • Peter Hook
  • Wild Bell
  • Drew Grow / Modern Kin
  • Phosphorescent
  • Savages
  • Indians
  • Father Strangelove
  • Wild and Scenic
  • Jake Bugg
  • Martin Rev / Suicide
  • Cevin Key / Skinny Puppy
  • Kanye West
  • Philip Glass
  • Rollerball
  • Last Brick Standing
  • The Hand that Bleeds
  • Yardsss
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

LATE NIGHT DISPATCHES: The Replacements / The National


The Replacements // Photo Credit: Colin Sanders

Here are our Late Night Dispatches from this weekend! The first is our newest correspondent, Colin Sanders, reporting after Riot Fest in Denver, CO – and it’s a LONG one. You can download that one HERE.

 largeThe National // Photo Credit: Colin McLaughlin

The second is Hollister, Arya, and friend-of-the-show Colin McLaughlin, after catching the transcendent National set at Edgefield Amphitheater. That can be downloaded HERE.

We hope you enjoy these!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

REVIEW: Pissed Jeans – Honeys

Making adult music for adult people can be a difficult thing. I, personally, adore two of the best bands doing it, The National and The Walkmen, and yet I completely understand those who don’t like it. Those two bands (The National especially) are bands for middle-class boredom, in which you have sex with people who you don’t love, drink too much wine, pretend to laugh at the jokes of people you hate, and sleep at night by taking one too many sleeping pills. There’s beauty in that. “With my kid on my shoulder I try / not to hurt anybody I like / But I don’t have the drugs to sort it out,” Matt Berninger sang on “Afraid of Everyone,” on the last National album, High Violet. The sentiment is something that is relatable, but it’s hard to really understand for a lot of people.

Where are the working class anthems for the worst parts of adulthood? My favorite of them is “The Jogger,” a tone poem of sorts off Pissed Jeans’ second LP, Hope For Men. “Promenade / The jogger / Piece of cake / Racquetball / Hiking trip / The jogger / Whole Foods / Matching outfit / Ford Explorer / The jogger.” The moment I heard that song, I knew exactly what he was talking about, and I think, when you read it, you do too. It’s a grimy, filthy, human version of Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier,” behind a wall of Melvins-esque noise. Hope For Men was an album for adults like Jason Bateman’s character in Juno, who’s wife used his old Soundgarden shirt as a grungy shirt to paint in, who’s had to sell out and get a real job to make a go at a “real life.” Pissed Jeans are by no means a success story: four albums and 9 years in, frontman Matt Korvette still works as an insurance claims adjuster, trying to hide his other life from his coworkers, he said in a recent interview. One might take an issue with that fact, but the way I see it, they’re a band that thrives due to its connection to banal minutiae.

Four albums in, Pissed Jeans have done little to change their sound. They have, however, honed their craft in a really interesting way. Where Shallow was a bit of a sloppy, cacophonous mess, the band has steadily refined their messiness, to the point where that clutter is nearly collected into easy-to-navigate piles. Listening to Honeys makes you feel like the last 15 years never happened, and that the grunge movement is alive and screaming, even if it has seen its hairline recede a little bit. Korvette is only 30, but it’s clear that he’s got a firm grip on the issues with growing up and being forced into growing up. Through all the fuzz, it’s hard to pick out everything, but key phrases and themes (such as that of Fight Club style fantasy murder) that present themselves for digestion. There’s a line, about halfway through the album on “Cafeteria Food”, that sums a lot of things up: “Hey there project manager / I saw you eating cafeteria food / I know that seems like like a healthy choice / I argue that isn’t true.” The song itself is a lumbering mass of bass fuzz, and it does nothing but enhance the bile in his words: “You think you’ve got it all figured out, except where to send your kids to school.” There’s a Bukowski lite tone to his anger on the song, and the album in general, where each bitter line is a mix of pity and jealousy, even if it can’t ever decide which it wears better.

Pissed Jeans are a bitter pill to swallow. Even when you enjoy their music and what they’re saying, like the anti-misogynist screed “Male Gaze,” it’s hard to really connect with the music in a meaningful way. You shouldn’t take this as me detracting from the raw power of the band, and how truly awesome Honeys is. They fill a very specific gap that has been missing in music, and even as a sweatervest wearing dad, I click a lot with the visceral imagery and energy of the band’s drunken, angular wailing. You have to come at the band with the right angle, or else you’re just going to view them as a bunch of meatheads wailing on their instruments for no good reason. If you’re willing to let them into your heart, Pissed Jeans are going to fill the same hole that they fill in mine, and you’re going to find yourself trying to figure out just how to tell people about them. If you don’t understand their music – and I’m sure a lot of you will find yourself in that position – I would suggest listening to Slings + Arrows again, and going back to your desk.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,