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The National captivates audience with stripped-down acoustic performance | The Triangle
Arts & Entertainment

The National captivates audience with stripped-down acoustic performance

Photo by Becca Newman | The Triangle

Indie rock band The National’s eager fans filled The Met Philadelphia on Tuesday, Aug.1. The band is composed of Matt Berninger (lead vocals), twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner (keys/guitar) and brothers Scott (bass) and Bryan (drums) Devendorf. While the band is well-known on its own, Aaron Dessner is infamous for his production skills. The band has collaborated with Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers and Bon Iver

At 7:31 p.m., opener The Beths took the stage backed by a screen with sunflower visuals that remained consistent throughout the show. There was also a fish prop towards the side of the stage. The New Zealand-based band has an indie pop sound and consists of Elizabeth Stokes (lead vocals/guitar), Jonathan Pearce (guitar), Benjamin Sinclair (bass) and Tristan Deck (drums). They kicked off their set with the upbeat track “Future Hates Me” from their 2010 album of the same title. However, the majority of their set was from their most recent album “Expert In A Dying Field,” released in 2022. 

This was The Beths’ first show on The National’s tour. The crowd seemed very engaged in their performance, with everyone enjoying the music even if they did not know the band. It was evident that the band is down to earth and has a close relationship with their fans, as Deck asked the crowd to send them videos of their performances on Instagram. Their set wrapped at 8:15 p.m. with lots of standing ovations.  

The National began their set at 8:44 p.m., opening with the Sufjan Stevens collaboration “Once Upon A Poolside” from their latest album “First Two Pages of Frankenstein” (2022). A somber aura settled over the venue, with the stage lights fading from gray to pink for the duration of the song. Berninger’s soft and heartbreaking vocals paired with the gentle instrumentation of the band made the performance of this song both memorable and emotional. The sadness did not last for long though, as the band launched into “Tropic Morning News” from the same album. The band showed up on the screen on a live cam, replicated three times, and made to look like old film. Berninger interacted with the crowd a lot during this track, making eye contact with different areas of the venue from the floor to the higher level seats. The live performance of this track exposed its true potential, as the studio version, while good, did not do it justice. 

Eucalyptus” (“First Two Pages of Frankenstein”) was a standout track. The lyrics of the song were displayed on screen, along with the live cam of the stage. Berninger truly put his all into the performance of this track, especially during the choruses. Every time he sang the lyrics “You should take it / ‘Cause I’m not gonna take it” was more intense than the last. The Dessner brothers also had their first insane electric guitar solo battle of the night. 

Berninger spoke to the crowd a bit into the set, talking about his view of the chandelier at The Met from stage. This sparked a funny anecdote about how he bangs his head on the chandelier in his house all the time. After this moment, the band launched into “Conversation 16” off their album “High Violet” (2010). The screen featured cool pink, purple and blue tunnel visuals. 

The band even incorporated songs from years ago into their set, with the inclusion of “Wasp Nest” from EP “Cherry Tree” (2004) which was remastered in 2021. Cloud-like shapes appeared on screen, as the venue grew silent. This beautiful ballad may be an unrecognized and hidden gem to a new The National fan, but should be given more attention.

Following “Wasp Nest” was one of the crowd favorites, “Alien” (“First Two Pages of Frankenstein”). The audience was chanting along with the chorus lyrics “Drop down like an alien.” This track also included another Dessner brother guitar-off. At one point, the brothers switched which sides of the stage they were standing on. Another crowd favorite was “England,” which started out slow, but ended high-energy. People were jumping and dancing during the chorus, as well as clapping their hands to the beat of the song. The clapping continued during the last song of the pre-encore set “Fake Empire” from the album “Boxer” (2007).

Photo by Becca Newman | The Triangle

The National left the stage and allowed fans to cheer for them before returning a couple minutes later with a five-song encore. The highlight tracks from this encore were “Terrible Love” and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” both off “High Violet.” The whole crowd sang during “Terrible Love,” putting their hands up and feeling every emotion that the lyrics conveyed. The lyrics “It takes an ocean not to break” were especially prominent and yelled louder than the rest. The ceiling lights were blue, shading the entire venue, matching the ocean lyrics of the song. 

“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” was an intimate experience and the perfect song to end the show. Berninger stepped away from his microphone and the Devendorf brothers abandoned their instruments. The Dessner brothers traded out their electric guitars for acoustic ones and began to play a soft melody. The crowd started to sing the song, keeping in tune with the Dessner brothers’ playing. The band members sang with them. No microphones were used throughout the entirety of the song, and this seemed to be a routine part of The National’s performance history as none of the audience members were surprised. According to Genius, this is always the band’s last song. 

Berninger was once again engaging with all sections of the venue and the crowd enthusiastically shouted “The geeks!” after every time they sang “I’ll explain everything to the geeks.” This chant “The geeks!” is not an official part of the song and must be an addition that happened live. The band fully connected with their fans in this special moment. It was wonderful to see and be part of something so unifying and raw. 

The National’s performance ended around 11 p.m. It was a tad hectic to exit the venue, as people were scrambling everywhere to attempt to get out the fastest or buy merch. The National’s music is definitely something worth experiencing live. The meaningful lyrics, paired with the band’s passion makes their music enjoyable to fans and non-fans alike.

SETLIST (posted by The National on their Instagram)

Once Upon A Poolside

Eucalyptus 

Tropic Morning News

New Order T-Shirt

Don’t Swallow The Cap

Bloodbuzz Ohio 

Demons

The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

I Need My Girl

Conversation 16

Humiliation / Murder Me Rachel

Wasp Nest

Alien 

Grease In Your Hair

Space Invader

Day I Die 

Pink Rabbits 

England 

Graceless

Fake Empire

ENCORE

Weird Goodbyes (feat. Bon Iver)

Mr. November 

Terrible Love

About Today 

Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks