Walking with Spiders: A Night with The National February 8, 2012Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Oh You Know.
In one of Alligator’s rapturous moments, Matt Berninger takes a walk in the clouds and sweeps them away, narrating a story purportedly inspired by a low-key neighborhood in New York City. He sings in “Daughter of the Soho Riots”: You were right about the end / It didn’t make a difference / Everything I can remember / I remember wrong. He talks less about the place than the relationship he associates with it, his words sounding very affectionate, lodging small stabs in the chest every time he utters, Break my arms around the one I love, and be forgiven by the time my lover comes. More than once I asked myself during the concert, who must have known I’d do this someday? Here watching them live?
The experience brought about several realizations. One is that I bring music with me everywhere I go. I can’t imagine my life without it. I associate people and places and things with songs, and every time I hear a familiar tune my face either lights up or frowns upon remembrance of an event or moments spent with someone. The National, for one, has provided me with an awful lot of memories. In fact, if I were to make a list of bands that have left an indelible mark on my life, they would be in it, alongside Radiohead, Blur, The Clash, The Smiths, and The Beatles.
The night before the concert, Jade, Mario, and I agreed that among the artists that became popular in the 2000s, it was really The National that hit us the hardest. They may not be as huge as U2 or Coldplay or Arcade Fire, but they are huge—we just don’t know how to approximate it. Out of the blue we started singing, poking fun at misheard lyrics—Corinne, Monster, and Raymond joining our conversations—and we couldn’t hide how excited we were for tomorrow, like kids waiting for their dates on prom night.
And the night came. Three days before my birthday. November 6, 2011. 8 P.M. at the Esplanade. I dressed up for the occasion. I planned wearing a tie to match my long-sleeved polo but hell, it would just make me feel uncomfortable. I saw some friends while Kriz and I were lining up to buy merchandise. Carina, Sarie, Luis, Kathy, Khavn. I went to the bathroom and someone was humming “Fake Empire.” We hurried to our seats and saw another batch of friends. The theater, which reminded me of a more sophisticated CCP Main Theater, started to be filled up, stall by stall, row by row, seat by seat. It was sold out. And we were lucky to be seated near the stage, right in the middle.
Well, “seated” is not exactly right. When the band came onstage, people rushed towards the front row and occupied the space there. I didn’t think twice about running—it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Standing for the entirety of the show, which ran for almost two hours, wasn’t bad at all. In fact, that’s how I imagined it to be: full of dancing, swaying, and shouting. And that’s what happened.
Matt was sipping beer or wine between songs and he joked about it, which made everyone in the audience chuckle. The band sounded excellent the whole freaking time. I looked around. People were everywhere, almost my age, young and alive, numbed by happiness, and their thought balloons read “!!!!!!!!!!!!!” There were some elderly couples too, enjoying the euphoria of the event, which ironically was brought about by songs about grief and sadness. I looked around and all I saw were happy faces in tears. Ninety percent of the photographs I took were out of focus, but every one of them made me remember the feeling, that formidable feeling of exhilaration, that thrill of seeing your favorite artists perform in front of you, carry your heart, and caress it.
As I write this, three months have already passed, but I still recall things very clearly. I must have said “Oh my god” over a hundred times. Kriz was right about the opening song, and I couldn’t be more thankful that it was “Runaway” since it’s the track from High Violet that I first loved. The guy to my left kept looking daggers at me because I was flailing around every time a new song came in, but the girl to my right was cool—she didn’t even notice it when I shook her shoulders the moment “England” ended. A bunch of Asian dudes in my row was shouting “All the wine! All the wine!” during breaks and unfortunately for them the song wasn’t played.
“Slow Show” took me by surprise because it had a different arrangement. It was the first time I cried that night. There were horns! We were clapping in unison! And they transitioned smoothly to “Squalor Victoria,” which had a spectacular intro that encouraged some of us to whistle. When silence came after “Apartment Story,” I managed to shout “That’s my favorite song!” and Matt responded with a smile. I burst into tears, which lasted only for five seconds because “Abel” started playing and it made me leap. I’m guessing they were smoking pot when they arranged the set list. It was a roller coaster of emotions.
They returned with four more songs, and Matt was probably tipsier than he thought. In the middle of “Terrible Love” he waded through the crowd, walked his way through the seats until he reached the end of the room, turned left, and was hounded by fans, myself included. I touched him, making myself believe that this was truly happening, and unconvinced, I pinched him. What could be gayer than that?
Back onstage, he sang one last song, this time only Aaron and Bryce’s acoustic guitars accompanying him, with several moments of violin playing. It was a stripped-down version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” a perfect song to close a wonderful night. Matt sang with his eyes closed, and so were most of us. I sang along and my voice was quivering. Everything became so clear, and images flashed before me. I was out of breath, and I thought, “Shit! I must not die now!” Recognizing the weight of the entire experience made me weep, and I didn’t have the drugs to sort everything out.
The stage lighting, among other things, is fantastic.
I was afraid.. I’d eat your brains.
It’s hard to take a picture of Bryce, but here he is.
On a bloodbuzz, all through the night.
All the very best of us! String ourselves up for love!
The set list:
2. “Anyone’s Ghost”
3. “Mistaken for Strangers”
4. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
5. “Slow Show”
6. “Squalor Victoria”
7. “Afraid of Everyone”
8. “Conversation 16”
11. “Apartment Story”
13. “Daughters of the Soho Riots”
15. “Fake Empire”
16. “Lucky You”
17. “Mr. November”
18. “Terrible Love”
19. “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”
<EVERYTHING WAS BEAUTIFUL AND NOTHING HURT>