Lincoln Theater, Raleigh, NC
May 28, 2009
Perhaps the quip on Facebook should have served as a warning. "Not sure I want to wade through the hipsters here to see the National. Let me know if it's worth going." And then the fact the show was sold out. But I am often not good at reading the signs. So Thursday evening found H and I setting out, once again in a thunderstorm. H is doomed to always drive to the triangle area in thunderstorms...if we end up moving there, it's going to rain a lot.
As mentioned before the drive to this part of NC is not particularly beautiful. We found ourselves amused at the various billboards. Luckily good company saves a boring drive. H and I talked about a lot of things....various issues we've been dealing with, music, and our future in Charlotte. I love being alone with H, and as much as I like going to shows with a load of friends, I still relish these times when it just he and I. We don't get many moments like these and we enjoy them as they come. Of course I was getting nervous because it was getting later, doors opened at 8, and when 8 rolled around we were still a half hour from Raleigh. H was his usual cool self "We'll be fine." But I knew the show had been sold out, and worried about the place being too packed to get a decent place to stand. I have a tendency now to want to be real close....
When we arrived in Raleigh (with is miniature cityscape), the storm had calmed. As we turned down the side street to the venue, we both moaned. There was no parking in the lot next to the club, and the line at the door extended a ways down the sidewalk. And the crowed, as predicted by my friend, was pretty much what I'd classify as hipster (too cool to be cool). We parked next door in a parking garage, and went to join our place in the too cool to be cool line. Once inside, it was packed but everyone was quite involved in drinking at the bar/concession stand. I was already not liking the vibe of the venue. It felt like a theater not a club.
We got our places at the front. Before us were a line of young girls who looked like they had just been released from high school. Opening act was a bit much. A guy playing a couple of different kinds of saxophones accompanied with these kind of annoying mouth clicks. Not my thing but the girls were front were all ga/ga over him. But they seemed like they would have been ga/ga over pretty much anything that went on on the stage. H translated the various sounds "Elephant dying." I did good and did not laugh out loud. I try to be somewhat respectable towards the opening acts even if I don't much like them.
Finally, the torture we had to endure to hear the National was over, and we waited impatiently while the roadies set up the instruments. The crowd was getting restless and pushing towards the front. Every time someone came onto the stage from the wings, the crowd would scream. H and I just looked at each other a bit horrified. This felt too much like an arena show as opposed to a little club with an indie band. We also found ourselves having to defend our spots, as more drunken fans kept pushing their way through...I figured we had earned our spots by listening to the opening act, and held strong against the pushing and swaying.
Finally, the National came on. Matt Berninger came out with a bottle of wine. And he was already swaying when he took the mike. They opened with a new song which I thought was ballsy. It was good but his voice did not sound anything like it did on Boxer. It was closer to the sound on Alligator but still...I don't know why singers feel this need to modify their voices in the studio. It makes for a big disconnect with the audience. Although this audience didn't seem to notice/care. They were screaming things like "I love you!!!" It was very disconcerting as I haven't been to a show like this since I saw Radiohead last year.
And it just kept getting weirder. One of the twins, on guitar, kept smiling at me...thought I was imaging it until H pointed it out as well. Matt got drunker and drunker as the show proceeded. This may be why his voice alternated between passable and horrible. There were times when his voice was so bad, it was actually unpleasant to listen too. The band was amazing, very tight, loud. They played with the songs so they didn't feel the same as they did on the album but it was creative playing that made everything feel fresh. "Mistaken by Strangers" was awesomely executed, including Matt's voice (made me a happy girl as this is my favorite song by them). The brass section was way too loud, and when they came in it drowned out the other instruments. Plus it sounded really discordant at times.
Matt was pretty drunk by the fifth song. He slammed his water bottle down on the stage, breaking it and sending water all over the first two rows. Umm...were we at a Great White show? He was going nuts on stage, screaming the lyrics into the mike, contorting all over the place, hitting the drums, falling on the floor. It felt awkward and uncomfortable as if he was putting on a show more than really getting into the music. I had expected a more serene, intellectual demeanor because of the interviews I had read and/or seen. But he was kind of acting like a "rock star." The audience was eating it up. They were shouting at him like he was a rock star. I kept waiting for people to pull their lighters out. The girls in front of us were swooning. They had their heads on their hands, and were staring up at Matt like he was a god come to stage.
And there was another problem. The audience just sucked. The girl behind me had the most fucking annoying voice. Squeaky, high pitched and she was drunk. She kept yelling shit at the band during the songs: "I LOVE YOU MATT!!" "YOU'RE THE BEST MATT!!!" "I FUCKING LOVE THIS SONG!!!" And when she wasn't screaming shit like that she was singing!!! Loudly. I almost turned around and said "Sweetheart I came here to listen to him sing. Not you so shut the fuck up ok?" In between every song, the audience would scream suggestions. I hate that. And then there were the two girls to the side, who proceeded to talk through the last half of the show, exchanging phone numbers with some guys, and yelling to each other. They did shut up after I mustered up one of real nasty glares but they were offended. I mean imagine someone not wanting you to talk through a show? The nerve.
When Matt threw himself into the audience was when I began to feel like maybe I had mistakenly entered a Jonas Brothers' concert. The crowd surged around him, touching him, taking photos right in his face, screaming out how much they loved him. He pushed his way by me, and was mangled by squeaky voice girl who refused to let go of him, and had him in a modified head lock at one point. Matt looked desperately at H, and I stepped between him and the girl so she had to let go. He hugged H, and then started to make his further back. I was in the line of the mike cord so I was holding it up. The roadie was mouthing to me that there was no more give. I was thinking "Ok what the hell do you want me to do?" So I started reeling Matt back to the stage, where he stumbled through, hugging H once more, and then climbed back up. At the end of this little routine, once the music stopped, he stood there swaying, and then pointed at me and said "Happy birthday." Everyone around turned to look at me, and I am sure I looked utterly dumbfounded as it wasn't my birthday and I didn't know the guy any better than the rest of the them. He meant to say happy birthday to trumpet players but in his drunken haze wished me one instead.
It's been almost a week and I am still not sure how I feel about the show. There were some great moments of music. "Mistaken for Strangers" and "Fake Empire" were wonderfully performed. I even enjoyed some Matt's yelling, and loved it when the guitar player went a little loud and crazy. But there were are times when Matt's voice just sounded bad, out of tune, slurred, nasal, just not all that great. And the crowd really scared me. I don't know if they're just a lot bigger that H and I thought they were? Listening to them on the way home, I was surprised that such a young crowd was so into them. The lyrics to Boxer are so nogalstic, thinking back on experiences that most of these kids are just beginning to have. And honestly it wasn't the youngness of the crowd that felt weird. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart had an equally young crowd, and they didn't make me feel strange at all. It was the youngness combined with the extreme fanishness. I just felt out of place. So did I like the show? Kind of. They played for two hours and most of the songs were great. I'd not likely ever go to see The National again but I'm glad I saw them, and for the most part enjoyed many of the songs. But it might be that they've just gotten too big. I don't like arena shows anymore. Not willing to cough up the money or to be caught in a big worshiping the band kind of vibe.