The National / The Forms
Music Hall of Williamsburg; Brooklyn, NY
After staggering through the new & im-poshed (and eerily familiar I might add -- Bowery Ballroom, anyone?) basement bar entrance of what used to be Northsix and hissing "I hate it" to my girlfriend Liz about 57 times, we make our way into the small crowd that has gathered in front of the (now fucking humongous) stage. I tap a guy on the shoulder and ask if the opening acts have gone on yet, and he's refreshingly friendly, telling me the first act had already gone on, prompting me to feel slightly ridiculous about dreading a show in Williamsburg.
Four young'n'earnest lads shuffle onstage and treat us to some of the prettiest four-part harmonies I've heard since Mrs. Woolever's select chorus. The Forms are pretty cute, and their drummer gets ten points for having obviously taken music theory, but sadly, their scope is limited. Some semblance of fingerpicking is needed to break through the albeit pleasant but monotone wall of guitars, but there is none to be found... sort of like hearing an instrumental Sunny Day Real Estate break on repeat. Launching into a cover of Nirvana's "All Apologies," The Forms induce a bit of a sing-a-long, but we're restless. After dedicating their final song to Reggie Jackson, they pack it up, and I run downstairs for another G&T, which causes me to run smack into my junior prom date. I kid you not.
Back upstairs, Liz informs me that we have a "music critic" on our hands. He is standing directly behind us and expounding on his infinite knowledge of rock music, which includes the following fun facts: (1) girls don't like classic rock; (2) girls don't like any type of music featuring a deep voice; and (3) girls don't like him, and that is why he is waving his arms around pretending to know what he's talking about. (I made that last one up.)
Moving along. The National takes the stage, and Matt Berninger gives Northsix a nod, mentioning that they used to practice in the basement, which now houses a bar. Berninger doesn't look like he's quite sure he's allowed up there, but his warm baritone eases us right into “Brainy,” an ethereal, drum-driven track from Boxer, an album that you've heard of by now, I'm sure. The crowd is small but focused. I'm guessing most people caught them the night before with electric guitar songstress St. Vincent, and it's a relief to not be fighting for space. I perk up when I hear “Mistaken For Strangers,” a song that at one time signaled how my boyfriend-girlfriend housemates were, uh, wishing to be left alone. I look around and realize that most of us are couples in various states of tenderness ranging from “get a room” to “awww.” Girls don't like The National, indeed.
My personal highlight is a charged-up rendition of “Squalor Victoria,” including a calculated yet sparkling guitar interlude; you can tell the kids have been waiting. I spot my junior prom date across the crowd and can't help but crack a smile. And as always, it is a great day when a roomful of Brooklyn concertgoers raucously applaud a violinist. Gets me right in my orchestra-geek heart. I'm a relatively new fan of The National; so many songs sail by unnamed. But at no point am I bored, which speaks volumes of this band in concert. There's enough for me to recognize, however, and when a cute girl comes out to play tambourine for “Fake Empire,” I'm genuinely happy. (Note: I have been informed that this “cute girl” is Marla Hansen, a member of My Brightest Diamond and also a member of Sufjan Stevens' brigade. Sweet.) The crowd sings along in a hush, which is at once eerie and romantic, to say the least. The band rounds out the “official” segment of the show with “Start A War” from Boxer, and at the song's close, a throaty voice screams, “BEST. CONCERT. IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE.” Okay, sure.
We are treated with a lovely, long encore, and the veteran fans are feeling it because the final song of the evening is “Mr. November” from 2005's The Alligator. With a final shy grin, Berninger exits, and every couple has one thing on their mind: getting home as quickly as possible. Oh yeah.