in which I experienced something I didn’t know I had been waiting for.
Once upon a time, I didn’t really get The National. Those were very dark times.
A friend of a friend said “Slow Show” was her favorite song. So, I listened to Boxer again—listened, this time, very carefully—and something life-changing happened.
There’s just no other way to describe it.
Maybe it’s all about timing, but on that second try, I fell in love, and I hurt, and then I fell in love again. Peter Silberman of The Antlers said:
“The National isn’t so much “a band” as it’s a piece of another person’s life that helps yours make sense.”
That’s exactly what it is, and I feel really lucky to have this, so I can fold it over and tuck in a space in my heart that’s probably in the shape of Ohio. It’s not just that Matt Berninger is so dreamy (he totally is, though), or that “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is so frakking catchy, or that Bryan looks a little bit like Jesus.
The National makes me feel at home. I know that’s corny and way overused, but it’s the only way I can ever describe this kind of closeness. There’s no possible way I can ever describe it in full, but to borrow something a stranger said about something else, The National “heal[s] every bit of you, even the ones you didn’t realize were hurting”.
When they canceled their Singapore show a few days before it was to happen, it was a devastating blow to the heart. I had been having a rough year, and it was the only thing I was looking forward to. I felt ripped open.
And then, suddenly, I had something to look forward to again.
They rescheduled their show for November 6, and they played an excellent set. It was their first Asian show, and I feel so full knowing that I was a part of it. A few of us had a bet as to what song they would open with. There was no opening act (which I’m thankful for) and they opened with “Runaway.” Only Chris got it right.
One thing that I’m asked a lot is to describe The National’s music, and often, I find that I can’t quite explain it. Not really. It’s a disservice to classify them as “rock,” because they are so much more. They’re so much more than New Wave with Folk undertones. They’re so much more than indie. How do you put into words an experience like this?
The closest “impersonal” description I’ve come across is by Aquarium Drunkard:
“The National craft mood music. In the span of four albums and an EP they have created a niche of elegant and dark atmospheric rock bolstered by vocalists Matt Berninger’s languid baritone and everyman poetics. These are the 21st century blues for those of us who grew up in the ‘80s. A world view framed by three decades worth of anxiety, mild paranoia, and disappointment – a vision fully, and flawlessly, realized on the group’s third album Alligator.”
And a personal one by Meaghan O’Connell:
“Aaaand you’re crying on the train. That’s all it takes. Two details, one confusing, sort of mysterious line that doesn’t make sense, then a UNIVERSAL FEELING.
And there you have it. A song that it isn’t outright overly-emotional, yet it makes you feel all dreamy and cross-eyed. It makes you feel profound, even though you don’t quite know what you are singing along to.
I mean, I’m down. THAT’S KIND OF MY FAVORITE THING.”
And a tweet:
My friend Karen once said that The National’s music had a tendency to be isolating. She wrote, after seeing them on Treasure Island:
“[…] even if their music can have the tendency to be isolating, it had the complete opposite effect during Treasure Island. It was affective, vulnerable and cathartic, and it was both an instant and gradual kind of falling in love – a Terrible Love (which also happened to be the last song on their set) – the great, poetic kind.”
It’s kind of funny, but it really felt like a gathering of the misanthropes and sad bastards who spend their time in the quiet, always in sweaters, always in gloomy weather. But we all knew the words, and so we all sang along. It’s an odd alchemy of dark loneliness and an uplifting sort of hope, and we cheered for them (and for us), and we reveled in it.
It was so much better than I could have ever imagined it to be. I thought I knew just what kind of being swept away I would feel, but I don’t think I could have prepared myself for this. We got a four- song encore: “Lucky You,” “Mr. November,” “Terrible Love,” “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.”
During “Terrible Love,” Matt Berninger leaned into the crowd, just within my reach. I held out my hand to stroke his beard – partly because I’m a creeper, and also partly because I didn’t think he would go into the crowd, like he normally does during “Mr. November.”
And then, he did. I reached out, and he took my hand to steady himself as he made his way further back the theatre. I wish I had a picture, but the memory is stark in my head, and somehow, that is always enough.
We ended with something like a kumbaya – a quiet rendition of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks accompanied only by a guitar, as well as a theatre filled with people who flew in from so many other places.
It was amazing.
Revised from original post. Majority of the post reconstructed via “The National: Experience,” a collection of fan stories from all over the world, put together beautifully by J of the All the Wine forum.