The fact that so many people can connect with the sentimental and introspective mid-life-crisis-esque anthems of Brooklyn-based, indie-rock band The National may say more about audiences than about the band. Despite the morose, despairing lyrics sung poetically by lead singer Matt Berninger, the energy was surprisingly positive and enthusiastic at the band’s Saturday show at the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theater.
Progressive-rock band Portugal. The Man opened for The National, playing an upbeat set that contrasted perfectly with the sorrowful mood of the main act. The National started the night off with “Don’t Swallow the Cap” from their 2013 release Trouble Will Find Me. With its sway-inducing, longing lyrics, the song matched Berninger’s drink of choice for the night — a crisp white wine, drunk straight from the bottle he was nursing (after he wildly flung his wine glass into the air). The Ohio native, staggering under the weight of both his cathartic verses and his alcoholic beverage, gave a surprisingly intimate performance despite the large-scale, open-air venue.
The quintet, made up of Berninger alongside two sets of brothers, Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf, jumped between Trouble Will Find Me and older albums, playing songs off of 2010’s High Violet and 2007’s The Boxer. The National even managed to sneak in “All the Wine” — onto their setlist in addition to Berninger’s mouth — a favorite off of their 2004 release Cherry Tree.
The audience itself seemed to match the tone and attitude of the band. The pit consisted of hip thirtysomethings, consciously clutching beers to their chests while loudly making small talk about Coachella and Glastonbury. The National (made up of members in their 30s and 40s) seems to have a following around their own age, which is not surprising given that their first few albums came out when most UC Berkeley seniors were 8 years old.
Though the band has been producing music since 1999, their newer music has reigned recently. Pitchfork hailed Trouble Will Find Me as “Best New Music” with an 8.4 rating and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences nominated it as “Best Alternative Album” for the 2014 Grammys.
Despite this recent peak in fame, The National’s performance remained down-to-earth and genuine. Berninger recklessly made his way out into the crowd mid-performance, screaming with his fans and pouring wine down the throats of enthusiastic admirers. “If you find my wallet or phone down there…,” he joked when he finally made it back up to the stage.
The rest of the set was a visceral expression of lovelorn nostalgia, which reached its height with “Ada,” featuring a passionate outro from Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” The National ended their performance with an acoustic and haunting audience rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” — an ethereal and moving culmination of the night.