The National
Show: The National
Date: April 25, 2014
Venue:The Santa Barbara Bowl
City: Santa Barbara, CA

The National
Photo by Nicolas Bates
Written by Dan Sinclair

If one ever needed an excuse to traverse the Pacific Coast Highway a couple hours north of Los Angeles to the lovely city of Santa Barbara, seeing The National at the Bowl is certainly a better one than most. Seriously, the Santa Barbara Bowl is one of the most gorgeous venues in all the country, built into a mountainous hill only a couple miles from the ocean. Use any excuse you can to get there. Unfortunately, the one to see The National is no longer valid, at least not for the rest of 2014 one would assume.

Dedicated RUKUS fans keeping score at home may remember this writer was lucky enough to catch The National’s set at San Francisco’s Outside Lands last summer. And while that was absolutely a great experience, it doesn’t even begin to compare to the full concert here in Santa Barbara. The National are just one of those bands few true fans of music could ever object to and most seem to flock to, and hearing that sound live has few competitors for such a moving concert experience.

Though it was a drizzly, cloudy Friday evening, none seemed to mind as The National kicked off the show with the poppy “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and the sad, but powerfully moving “I Should Live in Salt,” both off 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me. Matt Berninger stood center stage, leaning into the microphone, gripping it with both hands, bellowing his Bukowski-esque lyrics in his famous baritone, backed strongly by drummer Bryan Dessner’s steady driving beats.

Bryan’s brother mans the bass while twins Bryce and Aaron Dessner play the guitars and keys. Matt also has a brother named Tom, but he’s not in the band. He was a roadie for part of one tour which is brilliantly documented in his hilariously sad film Mistaken for Strangers, which I recommend you all to go see as soon as you can. Also, “Mistaken for Strangers” was played next.

Next up The National dove into “Sorrow” and then “Sea of Love,” each song seeming to sound better and even more important than the last, before continuing on with “Hard to Find.” Up next was “Afraid of Everyone,” which is important because it’s the lovely Miss Erin Lucia’s favorite off of High Violet and she was accompanying your humble writer for this evening. She had broken this news to me on the drive up, and during that conversation, I had informed her that “Conversation 16” was mine. And wouldn’t you know it, The National played those two songs back to back just for us.

Everyone kept singing along to “Squalor Victoria,” “I Need My Girl” and “This Is the Last Time” before the band debuted the ultra-rare “Santa Clara.” According to Bryce, the song was supposed to be on Boxer, but didn’t make the cut. Really great performance and I suggest you track it down.

Somewhere between “All the Wine” and “Abel” was right about the time the rain really started coming down. Many of the wimps ran away, but the majority of the crowd not only stayed, but jumped to their feet to dance in the rain. EL and I were among the rain dancers even though neither was dressed well for the weather. But we, along with the other drenched, no longer gave any shits when “Slow Show” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio” were played back to back. Matt was actually happy it was raining, proclaiming “Finally!”

After “Pink Rabbits” and “England” I thought Matt’s lungs were going to burst with his passionate rendering of “Graceless.” But they did not and he was able to close the set with an equally soulful performance of “Fake Empire.”

For the encore, this writer was forever grateful to hear his favorite National song “Mr. November.” I’m a Scorpio, okay? And I was only one in a sea of many voices screaming out the promise that “I won’t fuck us over/I’m Mr. November.” During “Terrible Love,” Matt went into the crowd, climbing his way all the way to the back of the lower section, pulling the cord of his mic as tight and as far as it would stretch.

When he returned to the stage, the band went acoustic as Matt yelled out the words to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” along with the participating soaking wet fans. The National thanked us, but it was we who should’ve thanked them for one of the greatest live music performances of this writer’s recent memory. If you don’t get it, don’t worry. I promise to “explain everything to the geeks.”

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