Sunday, June 06, 2010

The National @ House of Blues

The National frontman Matt Berninger is an entertaining performer, to say the least. Thursday night's show at Boston's House of Blues wasn't the first time I'd seen him live, but it was the first occasion that I noticed how endearingly spastic he is.

Spastic might not be the right word, as I once used it in reference to The Hold Steady lead singer Craig Finn, someone who really fits the description. But, Berninger's onstage antics definitely indicate some type of anxiety, whether clinical or not, particularly because he doesn't seem truly comfortable except when he's actually singing.

But, this is just an observation, as it didn't affect his performance and seemed to wear off as the night progressed. Of course, that was mainly due to the effects of the alcohol—wine or champagne, perhaps—that he was pouring into a cup from a bottle located in front of the drum kit. Witty banter definitely flowed more freely during the second half of the show, and Berninger didn't seem at all uncomfortable when he took his microphone into the crowd on more than one occasion.

Once again, none of this detracted from what was easily the best concert of my 2010 to date. The National are further establishing themselves, in my mind, as the best indie band to come out of Ohio since...oh, screw Guided by Voices (aka Blighted by Noises)...The National are the best band from Ohio, period.

As the opening act, The Antlers were much better than I expected, and definitely better than on record. I bought Hospice on eMusic last year, thinking it had serious potential after multiple sample track previews, but I just never got into it. I might have to give one more last chance.

Thursday's show was also the first time I sat in the House of Blues' stadium seating, and I couldn't have been more pleased. I don't think I've ever had a more comfortable seat for a concert in my life, and HOB's idea of stadium seating is comparable to that experienced in newer movie theaters. That is, each row sits considerably higher than the one below, so no matter how tall the person in front of you, you're pretty much assured of an unobstructed view.

Rounding out my reasons for being more than content with the night's entertainment was the fact that the seven band members beyond Berninger—two guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, trumpet and trombone—displayed a high level of on-stage energy that seemingly wasn't aided by liquid courage. Their generous two-hour set of tunes—culled mostly from their latest, High Violet, and 2007's Boxer, with a few well-chosen older selections sprinkled in as well—left no doubt that, despite a reputation for writing sad-sack songs, this is a serious—and by that I mean seriously great—rock band.

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