Wednesday night The National played the House of Blues Boston in support of their latest album, High Violet, and the set drew heavily from their fifth full-length. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. High Violet is a gorgeous album of indie pop/rock ballads, and as a whole the record is quietly epic. Horns and strings swirl around singer Matt Berninger’s baritone as he croons about depressing adult things. I didn’t expect it to translate live, but I was dead wrong: the National managed to capture the big sound they had on the record.
The band brought in a horn section to compliment their sweeping delay-soaked guitars and propulsive drum beats. The most entertaining part of the show was singer Matt Berninger, as he alternated between sauntering around the stage with a large glass of wine and fidgeting excitedly somewhere between the microphone and the drums.
The set started off with an amped up version of “Start a War,” from previous album Boxer. With that song The National’s grandiosity swept over the crowd, and Berninger began to drink his standard bottle of wine. “Anyone’s Ghost” came a little later, after which Berninger dryly told the crowd That’s a pop number for you. Between songs there were some off-hand grown-up jokes and playful banter between the brothers Dessner (the twin guitarists) and Berninger. One of the highlights was the sweetly wistful rendition of “Lemonworld,” followed by a haunting take on “Conversation 16.” “England,” the second to last song in the set, was glorious; the horn section shook Lansdowne Street in an epic wave.
The four-song encore had as much energy as the rest of the set. Live staple “Mr. November” turned into a screamer with Berninger stumbling and falling over an amp. The older crowd was relatively dead, only lighting up when Berninger jumped off stage during the last song of the night, “Terrible Love,” and ran all the way to the back of the House of Blues, to the chagrin of the tech guy and the rest of the band.
To my disappointment, the last song before the encore, “Fake Empire,” the leading track off Boxer and a President Obama theme song, was really off, and bassist Scott Devendorf never took off his sunglasses (does he think he’s Corey Hart?). Besides that mild let down, The National killed it. After eleven years they have perfected a charming and gigantic live show.