The National
June 21 at the Middle East Downstairs
All photos by Matt Teuten

It was difficult not to root for the National at the start of last night’s show, when six scruffy, average-looking dudes walked onstage, shyly and graciously, without a trace of hipster-ness - perhaps a sign of their Cincinnati roots, though they now reside in Brooklyn. It was the first of two sold-out shows (the other is tonight), on a sold-out tour, and this is new territory for the not-so-new band. The National released four incendiary albums and became accustomed to playing half-full (or less) venues before their fifth album, Boxer, came out last month (and leaked well before that) to a virtual storm of hype and critical acclaim - all of it well-deserved. There’s nothing particularly complex about Boxer - it’s lead singer Matt Berninger’s baritone voice (often compared to Leonard Cohen), brooding piano, guitar and strings, combined in a vaguely Smiths-influenced Americana-type way - except maybe for lyrics like “I’m sorry I missed you, I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain,” which are simultaneously mysterious and yet all-too-familiar. But simple songwriting is the National’s brilliance. That brilliance didn’t necessarily translate to the stage, however, no matter how badly anyone wanted it to. Crowd chatter and sounds drifting down from the Middle East upstairs threatened to swallow the National on slower numbers, such as “Slow Show” and “Brainy,”  though the dedicated crowd shouted along heartily on “Fake Empire,” and “Murder Me Rachel,” one of the band’s signature old live favorites. Full review to come soon.

--Caitlin E. Curran
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