Finishing a three-night stint at ACL Live, last night The National delivered a nearly two-hour set, backed by a screen that projected pulsing recorded images layered with an oscillating live video feed. For a band whose sound is often sullen and whose lyrics are often double-edged, a pulsating screen and rotating light show could be seen as an encumbered distraction – but it could also serve as evidence of further evolution. The band is okay with heightening its production value.
After all, the true focus could not be kept from Matt Berninger, who prowled the stage relentlessly between songs and in pockets of instrumental interludes.
The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Ohio band drew much of their set from their latest, Trouble Will Find Me, and previous, High Violet, with Berninger frequently hitting his microphone against his side or his head or throwing it in a burst against the stage. Throughout the set he exploded with a sort of bottled rage buried beneath that steadily sonorous and melancholy voice. The peak came just past three-quarters of the way into the show, with Berninger giving such a high-powered performance on “Graceless” that he’d pushed himself off stage and all the way into the back of the audience on the first floor, causing the techs to scurry to retrieve the microphone cord.
Other audience-interaction attempts were less successful – try as he might, Berninger didn’t quite crowdsurf as much as he did just lay on people. If you’re a 40-something man in a nice suit with an unmistakable baritone, there’s really no need to crowdsurf. Give us “Afraid Of Everyone” and “I Should Live In Salt” and let us sing along unplugged to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” and we’ll be happy.