When NXNE announced that The National would be headlining at Yonge-Dundas Square, I was a bit surprised. While they are an arena band who have headlined festivals, I questioned whether they were dynamic enough for such an open venue, especially considering that previous headliners included the likes of Iggy Pop and The Flaming Lips. And how would their brooding, melancholy songs fit amidst an atmosphere created by tacky advertisements and neon signs?
As it turned out the juxtaposition of their somewhat pensive tunes mixed with the kitschy backdrop of YDS was not lost on singer, Matt Berninger, who made cracks about the distracting media that surrounded them. Facing an image of Beyonce, he addressed the icon a couple of times, thanking her for showing up and dedicating a song to her. Other band members noted the Jays game that was being screened just above them. But despite the distractions, the band played a solid set of fan faves, mainly from High Violet, including “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” and their latest release, Trouble Will Find Me. The band stood a bit static for much of the set, but the famous crooning of the smooth-as-butter Berninger baritone made up for it. From my vantage point WAY back, up against the Eaton Centre lobby window, the crowd was quite attentive, though Berninger’s sarcastic remark about the audience being “into the slow songs” suggests that more than a few audience members were a bit restless. You can’t blame the crowd though; a good chunk of them weren’t die-hard fans and it just wasn’t the right space for the band’s ballads. Had they replaced just one of the more quiet tunes with say, “Anyone’s Ghost”, the momentum would have shot up considerably. Instead, it was the old walk-into-the-audience trick that got people more engaged. Berninger’s sense of humour over the venue helped as well and it reigned throughout the set. Towards the end he announced that Jack Astor’s were serving free drinks after the show.
The band concluded with their standard hushed version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” Ideally, it should have been the kind of ending that would turn your skin to gooseflesh, but again, the public venue took away from the intended vibe. Overall, it was a great gig for the fans, but those who came out of curiosity really didn’t get to experience The National as they were meant to be. Oh well, at least they saw Jays win.
© Renee Saviour, Music Vice
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