The National: Live in Milwaukee

The National Live in MilwaukeeThe National, Pabst Theater

Milwaukee, September 21, 2007

“You know, the last time we played Milwaukee there were about 20 people,” bewildered guitarist Bryce Dessner remarked midway through The National’s set to the screams of a packed audience. The National has been making a slow yet steady rise in the collective consciousness of the music world ever since 2005’s Alligator topped critics’ year-end lists, and whether this theater was packed because of indie-kid-blogosphere-bandwagon-hopping or genuine appreciation for the music is unclear and frankly irrelevant.

The appetite of this crowd was insatiable, fed on a diet of 2007’s excellent Boxer, and if anything their performance was an indication that indie rock truly belongs to the masses now, considering the fact that a great portion of the audience looked like the type of guy who would have kicked the band’s asses in high school, standing like tree trunks in the front row and repeatedly calling for them to play “Fashion Code.” This is not exactly new, this Frat Guy Takeover of Indie Rock. In fact, bitching about it has become cliche among music writers in and of itself. It’s still jarring to experience, however, especially when half of the between-set conversations going on around you seem to be the same burly dudes drinking PBR and talking about how hot that St. Vincent chick is.

St. Vincent opened the night exactly at eight pm, playing a 20-minute set of jittery solo guitar and beat-driven music that, while listenable, was just that. It sounded like music that was genetically engineered to be background music for television, culminating in a crowd-pleasing, reimagined cover of “Dig A Pony.” She was charming onstage: “This [is a] song off a record that came out a couple months ago. It’s called Marry Me. Don’t marry me, guys. It’s a TERRIBLE IDEA.”

The National opened their set with “Start A War,” and peppered the rest of the hour-plus set in equal parts with cuts from Boxer and Alligator. “Slow Show” was dedicated to a recently-married couple in attendance because they had “dreamed about each other for 29 years, unless [you guys] get divorced, then we don’t have anything to do with this.”

The Pabst Theater is an incredible venue to see live music and this band in particular benefited from the excellent sound and acoustics. Singer Matt Berninger remarked, “It’s so beautiful, you almost feel bad drinking.” Each of The National’s songs is a story in miniature, and experiencing them live is as much about appreciating the narratives and as watching what they were going to do next. And there was plenty to watch here, from frenetic violin solos to Berninger’s magnetic, theatrical-without-being-obnoxious stage presence. After throwing a microphone stand around at the end of the set, he giggled, “I hope they don’t make me pay for this one.”

What they accomplished, for all of the aforementioned blustering about who attended the show,who owns the music and why the fuck is that guy here, was to make you forget about the who and the why, that if you get your underpants all up in a twist about who and who does not have the “right” to listen to the music you love maybe you aren’t there for the music at all. When an entire crowd is screaming at the top of their lungs along with the chorus of “Mr. November” (“I’M MR. NOVEMBER, I WON’T FUCK US OVER”) as happened during the encore, it’s enough to remind you that some experiences simply shouldn’t be questioned or analyzed to death. The music belonged to everyone tonight, and there are few bands who have the capabilty of reminding people of that. The National quietly (well, mostly loudly) demonstrated that there are more important things to pay attention to.

Photos by the author. More available on flickr.

MP3: The National – “Fake Empire” from Boxer.

The National – “Apartment Story”

The National 2007 Tour Dates

26 Sept: THE LATE LATE SHOW with Craig Ferguson 12:35AM ET/PT

27 Sept: SAN DIEGO, CA – The Casbah w/ St. Vincent // SOLD OUT

28 Sept: LOS ANGELES, CA – The Wiltern w/ St. Vincent

29 Sept: SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The Grand Ballroom w/ St. Vincent // SOLD OUT

01 Oct: PORTLAND, OR – Crystal Ballroom w/ St. Vincent

02 Oct: SEATTLE, WA – Showbox w/ St. Vincent

03 Oct: VANCOUVER, BC, Canada – Commodore Ballroom w/ St. Vincent

06 Oct: BOSTON, MA – Roxy w/ Doveman // SOLD OUT

07 Oct: MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada – Le National w/ Doveman

08 Oct: TORONTO, Ontario, Canada – Phoenix Concert Hall w/ Doveman // SOLD OUT

09 Oct: BUFFALO, NY – The Tralf Music Hall w/ Doveman

10 Oct: NORTHAMPTON, MA – Pearl Street w/ Doveman

11 Oct: NEW YORK, NY – Terminal 5 w/ St. Vincent // SOLD OUT

12 Oct: NEW YORK, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg // SOLD OUT

30 Oct: DUBLIN, Ireland – Ambassador Theatre w/ St. Vincent

31 Oct: BELFAST, Ireland – Spring + Airbrake w/ St. Vincent

01 Nov: DUBLIN, Ireland – Olympia Theatre w/ St. Vincent // SOLD OUT

02 Nov: GLASGOW, Scotland – ABC w/ St. Vincent

03 Nov: SHEFFIELD, England – Leadmill w/ St. Vincent

04 Nov: MANCHESTER, England – Academy 2 w/ St. Vincent

06 Nov: BIRMINGHAM, England – Irish Centre w/ St. Vincent

07 Nov: LONDON, England – Shepherds Bush Empire w/ St. Vincent

08 Nov: LONDON, England – Shepherds Bush Empire w/ Very Special Guests

09 Nov: BRISTOL, England – Anson Rooms w/ St. Vincent

10 Nov: PORTSMOUTH, England – Pyramids w/ St. Vincent

12 Nov: BRUSSELS, Belgium – AB w/ Hayden

13 Nov: REIMS, France – La Cartonnerie w/ Hayden

14 Nov: PARIS, France – Elysee Montmartre w/ Hayden

15 Nov: RENNES, France – Ubu Club w/ Hayden

16 Nov: ANGOULEME, France – La Nef w/ Hayden

17 Nov: BARCELONA, Spain – Apolo w/ Hayden

19 Nov: CLERMONT-FERRAND, France – Le Cooperative De Mai w/ Hayden

20 Nov: LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Le Romandie w/ Hayden

21 Nov: MILAN, Italy – Transilvania w/ Hayden

22 Nov: ZURICH, Switzerland – Abart w/ Hayden

23 Nov: ZAGREB, Croatia – KSET w/ Hayden

24 Nov: VIENNA, Austria – Szene Wien w/ Hayden

26 Nov: STUTTGART, Germany – Schocken 12 w/ Hayden

27 Nov: COLOGNE, Germany – Prime Club w/ Hayden

28 Nov: AMSTERDAM, Holland – Melkweg w/ Hayden

30 Nov: COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Amager Bio w/ Hayden // SOLD OUT

01 Dec: STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Berns w/ Hayden

02 Dec: OSLO, Norway – John Dee w/ Hayden

03 Dec: COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Vega w/ Hayden

05 Dec: HAMBURG, Germany – Knust w/ Hayden

06 Dec: BERLIN, Germany – Postbahnhof am Ostbahnhof w/ Hayden

09 Dec: MOSCOW, Russia – Apelsin Club

St. Vincent – “Paris Is Burning” (DUMBO Session)

MP3: St. Vincent – “Marry Me”

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