The National, an American indie rock band from Cincinnati, Ohio, performs at the Osheaga festival on July 30, 2010. Courtesy Terry Karavoulias / Wikimedia Commons

The National brings its boldest album to life at the Wang Theatre

When The National released its most recent album, “Sleep Well Beast” (2017), to the public, it became one of its most adventurous projects yet. The band, commonly known for its dependently mellow and melancholy indie rock, supplemented by lead singer Matt Berninger’s relaxed baritone, has brought a little bit of chaos into its newest album. While it isn’t a large departure from The National’s famous sound, it’s a departure nonetheless. Still, the album has received critical acclaim and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, the band’s best ranking ever.

That chaos, fueled by rawer vocals, electronic experimentation and loud guitar licks certainly makes for an explosive album. The band proved last Thursday at the Wang Theatre during its tour supporting the record that a little chaos makes for a thrilling show.

The band immediately assured the crowd that this tour was all about “Sleep Well Beast” by starting off its set with four straight tracks from the album, including the piano-driven opener “Nobody Else Will Be There” and lead single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.” By night’s end, nine songs from the 22-song setlist were from the new record, although interestingly enough, the eerie title track and album closer, “Sleep Well Beast,” was absent.

But there was still time for some older hits, as The National sent the crowd into a roar early into the show when it brought out “Don’t Swallow the Cap” (2013) followed immediately by “Afraid of Everyone” (2010). The back nine of the set had some classic cuts too, with notable performances such as “Apartment Story” (2007) and “Bloodbuzz Ohio” (2010). This band knew how to bring out its best hits at the perfect time in the set, sprinkling in fan favorites from classic albums like “Boxer” (2007), “High Violet” (2010) and “Trouble Will Find Me” (2013) all throughout the evening.

Of course, Berninger and the gang’s personality was on display all evening as well. Whether it was their constant banter between performances, Berninger’s inclination to toss out full solo cups of (probably) water into the crowd or silly musings about the songs they were playing, the band stayed engaged with the crowd all night. One notable moment was during “Turtleneck” (2017), when Berninger messed up the lyrics and demanded to stop and restart, because he didn’t want to miss out on singing his favorite verse. The lightheartedness would continue throughout the show, giving the audience a chance to laugh in between crying to The National’s famously heartbreaking catalog.

Nothing too wild or unexpected happened during the night, but a nice surprise for longtime fans of the band arrived in the middle of the set. For the first (and currently only) time on the tour, the band played “Son” from its debut studio album, “The National” (2001). Notably missing, however, were any songs from “Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers” (2003) or the EP “Cherry Tree” (2004). The latter absence was particularly disappointing, since the band has played “About Today” (2004) as its pre-encore closer.

Instead, the pre-encore finale of choice was a different classic — “Fake Empire” (2007), which received no complaints from the crowd. The band capped off the night with an encore of older favorites: “Lemonworld” (2010), “Mr. November” (2005) and “Terrible Love” (2010).

During “Terrible Love,” as a sincere goodbye to the crowd, Berninger rushed out into the seats of the Wang Theatre and high-fived as many fans as possible before turning into a lucky row and screaming the lyrics, “It takes an ocean not to break,” with everyone surrounding him. During a night of countless emotions, this may have been the most impactful moment and left an already satisfied crowd even more pleased.

The National’s formula hasn’t changed too much over the years, but the band always finds a way to create some fresh take on its sound with each album, and this latest album was its boldest take yet. With the band’s current tour and the commercial and critical success of “Sleep Well Beast,” The National is continuing to prove its worth as one of the most consistently great indie/alt-rock acts of this century.  

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