We Love Music: The National @ DAR Constitution Hall 6/6/10

The National @ DAR Hall #2 6/6/10
“The National at DAR” courtesy of Samer Farha.

The National are blowing up huge in 2010. Of that there is no question. Their latest album “High Violet” debuted at number three on the Billboard Top 200 when it dropped last month. It has been nearly impossible to avoid their massive campaign of television and festival appearances, rave album reviews in print and online, and their inventive use of web-isodes and internet video exclusives. When a band gets pushed this hard it gives one pause. Do they have the chops to back it up or is this all a smoke screen to sell shoddy product? In the case of The National it is readily apparent to the listener of “High Violet” or the attendee at one of their concerts that this is a very talented band that has hit their stride.

“High Violet” is the fifth album by The National. Their style has evolved over the years from alt-country inflected pop albums to a darker and emotionally huge sound (that frankly suits the band better). “High Violet” rounds out a trilogy of excellently written and performed albums. It is preceded by “Boxer” and “Alligator“. Vocally all three albums have just the right balance of melancholy, introspection, and frustration to provide a wealth of emotion to the listener. Musically The National have become more and more interesting with each of these three albums. “Boxer” may represent a lush musical peak for the band, but it is on “High Violet” that they employ just the right measure of restraint to their large sound, lending real gravity to their lyrics.

The National performed to a sold out crowd at DAR Constitution Hall on Sunday night. Like their last three albums, their live show proved that The National are seriously talented and exciting performers. The show heavily mined “High Violet”, “Boxer”, and “Alligator”; perfectly blending great songs from all three to balance moments of emotional honesty, musical cacophony, and pop brilliance. For a band that features lyrics of such introspection and woe, The National provide a surprisingly powerful and energetic concert that more than once had me thinking of The Cure and U2. After experiencing The National live on Sunday night, I imagine, that much like those two long-running and massively successful bands, The National could have a long and successful future crafting ever-evolving emotional pop music.

The National @ DAR Hall 6/6/10
“The National at DAR” courtesy of Samer Farha.

The National took to the stage in front of a large, blank canvas backdrop. Rather than featuring pre-prod visuals, they simply employed colored lights and their own blacked-out silhouettes as the visual element of their show. It was very striking to see the blacked-out band members performing in front of a massive wall of solid blue, purple, red, or orange. The lighting was so good at DAR that when they did these band black-out/color wall effects it almost felt like you were watching a high-def music video instead of an actual live band. But that is DAR Hall for you. I hear a lot of complaints about DAR as a rock venue, but personally I think the place is all class all, the way. It is a beautiful concert hall that elevates rock and pop music performance to an almost classical-music presentation.

The National @ DAR Hall 6/6/10
“The National at DAR” courtesy of Samer Farha.

The National were certainly the perfect class-act for this class establishment. From their beautifully spare opening song ‘Runaway’, to their excellent renditions of ‘Conversation 16’ and ‘Afraid of Everyone’, and rounded out by a devastating version of ‘Daughters of the Soho Riots’ the band regularly offered up moments of real honest emotion that felt perfectly at home in the surroundings. There were also plenty of moments of pop star exuberance that strained the confines of this esteemed hall. Most notably on ‘Able’ when lead singer Matt Beringer climbed into the audience and ran screaming through the aisles all the way to the back of the hall and then again during their encore when Beringer climbed up onto the balcony and ran amok amongst the cheap seats during ‘Mr. November’.

The National @ DAR Hall 6/6/10
“The National at DAR” courtesy of Samer Farha.

For Sunday’s concert the core band of five was augmented by the addition of a brilliant multi-instrumentalist, Padma Newsome, who played keyboards, violins (both bowed and plucked), and an assortment of yard-sale found instrument oddities; and a two man horn section (trumpet and trombone). The eight man unit was extremely impressive constantly switching instruments from song to song, displaying a wholesale mastery of multiple instruments. The one musician who didn’t switch it up was drummer, Bryan Devendorf. I’d like to make special note of his performance because it was a joy to watch. From the most melancholy moments to the loudest cacophony he was always doing something interesting with his drum kit. This was best illustrated during the two song stretch that opened the show of ‘Runaway’ and ‘Mistaken for Strangers’. During ‘Runaway’ he was holding and using three different percussive implements in his hands while subtly drumming with both feet on separate drums (and that was on a quiet song!). He really unloaded the heavy percussion once ‘Mistaken…’ went full throttle.

The National @ DAR Hall 6/6/10
“The National at DAR” courtesy of Samer Farha.

I was thoroughly impressed with The National’s concert on Sunday. The crowd seemed to be completely enthralled by this electric performance too. The National have been around a long time, touring hard and tweaking their sound on successive albums. It is obvious they have fostered an adoring fan base that continues to grow as they develop as a band. As I mentioned before 2010 seems to be The National’s year and rightly so based on the quality of their latest album “High Violet” and the high caliber of their live show. The National are currently on a ridiculously massive world tour so there will be plenty of opportunities to catch them live if you missed out on Sunday night’s stellar performance at DAR Constitution Hall.

Photo courtesy of
‘The National at DAR’
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’

* a full and accurate setlist.
* more photos by Samer Farha.

Michael splits his free time between defending the little guy and championing the underdog. He has been haunting the concert halls, dive bars, and greasy spoons of DC for the last 16 years. His interests include live rock music, researching obscure military/political conflicts, and good hamburgers. He is a friendly grump, has wisdom beyond his years, and is on a life-long quest to attain music nirvana. Follow him on Twitter if you dare!

13 thoughts on “We Love Music: The National @ DAR Constitution Hall 6/6/10

  1. If you had seats like that, no wonder you don’t mind DAR!

    I was in “the cheap seats,” which were decidedly “Meh.” This show would have been far more appropriate for the 9:30 Club.

    (Also, someone buy that guy a wireless microphone!)

  2. I believe all of the seats were the same cost. Great show, but I enjoyed seeing them at 9:30 much more.

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  4. There is a glaring mistake in this review – Boxer and Alligator are not the only two albums before High Violet. In addition to two EPs they also released a self-titled full length in 2001 and Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers in 2003. Get your facts straight!

  5. @ Wells – I guess you missed this line? ‘“High Violet” is the fifth album by The National.’

    I focused on the last three albums because they are better than the first two and the majority of the setlist on Sunday was from those 3.

  6. I too loved the show, I’ve seen them six times (three at 9:30) and even though DAR isn’t the greatest venue, by coming into the crowd, they made it feel more intimate. The band seems to get sharper and sharper each time I’ve seen them. Glad you gave props to the drummer, by far the best I’ve seen, SO many of their songs (such as Squalor Victoria) are drum / percussion driven, amazing considering the caliber of the other musicians in the band. His peformance is so effortless, which makes it all the more impressive. If you haven’t seen it, check out the great Google ad using Apartment Story, if that doesn’t get you pumped up for a concert, nothing will …

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