The original plan actually was to avoid any wine-related metaphors on Matthew Berninger and his band THE NATIONAL on this review. You know, like the old “They are getting better with age” and everything – especially with Berninger being a chronically connoisseur of white wine on stage whenever the band is playing. But he did it again this time – and his band proved once again why they actually seem to get better with every record they release. Their next one – Trouble Will Find Me – will be out on May 20 and NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION had the pleasure of attending the band’s exclusive showcase last night at the Michelsberger Hotel in Berlin.
Showcases like this one are always a quite difficult affair. With the audience mostly existing of journalists, business people and other folks from this category, it’s never like on a real gig. Especially when this audience is hearing the songs for the first time – and nothing else happened on this night in Kreuzberg. THE NATIONAL played ten out of thirteen new songs from Trouble Will Find Me, some of them for the first time ever. Probably one reason why Berninger brought a music stand with the new lyrics with him on stage – well, next to the obligatory bottle of wine and a glass. Even such big indie-rock players like THE NATIONAL are still capable of stage fright – good to see.
Playing on a little stage build up in the courtyard of the Michelsberger THE NATIONAL introduced their sixth album to the world. Recently Berninger stated on the new record “For the past 10 years we’d been chasing something, wanting to prove something. And this chase was about trying to disprove our own insecurities. After touring ‘High Violet’, I think we felt like we’d finally gotten there. Now we could relax – not in terms of our own expectations but we didn’t have to prove our identity any longer.” And for everybody who had certain doubts after the statement about how the band might have lost their unique ability to create haunting, bitter and dark melancholic sounds – cool down! The band is still down with their own Demons as they already hint in the opening track of the night.
It looks like Trouble Will Find Me is about to reactivate the usual THE NATIONAL formula for another time – once again very focused and on point, like a logical continuation of High Violet. Forcing moments like Don’t Swallow The Cap or Slipped are quite hard and heavy and give guitar playing twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner room to act like actual rock stars. Graceless is another one from the album that might go in that direction. The calmed down moments like Heavenfaced or Pink Rabbits are once again true beauty and THE NATIONAL at their strongest. It’s Berninger’s voice and the brutal honesty and abrasiveness within his baritone that soaks through your skin. It’s always been that way – and since the 42-year old front man is attending the stage with glasses on that night, his elitist look gets even more perfect. But there is a beast within this melancholic man – it pops out from time to time, whenever he desperately screams into the microphone, destroys things on stage (Berninger recognizes the uselessness of the music stand quite soon) or has this certain fire in his eyes. Or maybe it’s the wine, who knows.
The hypnotic Fireproof was another one of these instant THE NATIONAL hits on that night. Driven music with a voice that puts it down to earth. And you can clearly sense that the audience was digging the new material as well. But – as always on such gigs – it really gets good once the band is playing parts of its own back catalogue. There is Bloodbuzz Ohio, the group’s little indie hit and the wonderful Fake Empire, opener of 2007’s Boxer record. And, of course, the obligatory Mr. November from 2005 with probably everyone in the band going nuts while playing this rocker. Especially when Berninger desperately screams into the microphone: “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November.“
After 60 minutes the showcase ends with Terrible Love and a thankful band leaves the stage towards their hotel rooms – a logistically quite short way. So, what consolidated findings do we have here? First, THE NATIONAL are still a solid rock in the ever changing sea of the music business. Second, Trouble Will Find Me is about to take them one step further. Well, you can mock about how THE NATIONAL are always playing the same scheme and formula on each record. But who doesn’t? I mean, even every Thom Yorke release actually sounds like him. THE NATIONAL sound likeTHE NATIONAL and as long as their songs are that strong, heart-wrenching and fascinating we couldn’t care less about styles and trends. This brings us to the third result, the wine and this bloody metaphor. But they are really getting better with age, 2013 might be their year (again) and they definitely won’t fuck us over. Cheers to that!
THE NATIONAL – Berlin, April 4 2013 – Setlist
02. Don’t Swallow the Cap
07. Sea of Love
09. Pink Rabbits
10. Bloodbuzz Ohio
11. Fake Empire
12. I Should Live In Salt
13. Mr. November
14. Terrible Love