Saturday, December 4, 2010


December 1, Brixton Academy

Going to so many shows without prejudice you get to see a huge cross-section of music fans. So what if some hipster with pointy shoes and Buddy Holly glasses looks at me funny for wearing a Gallows shirt to a National gig. Fuck ‘em, their ankles are cold…

Tonight’s crowd is an older and more “sophisticated” – in some parts, flat-out pretentious – mix of people. The kind of crowd where it’s not unusual to see someone reading a book between bands, instead of the usual iPhone/Blackberry Twitter addiction.

Phosphorescent are on first. And besides the stupid name, they’re actually pretty darn good, pardner. Their music’s a gentle wash of alternative rock with a distinctly Southern, truck-stop, country-blues kind of swagger. Slow at first, but everything’s building to something.

Drummer Chris Marine is a master of subtlety and restraint, smashing his cymbals to pieces when the time arises. And lead guitarist Jesse Anderson Ainslie is one of the most soulful shredders I’ve ever seen in operation.

Frontman Matt Houck’s voice fills the hall like the smell of a hobo’s raincoat – without even trying. He comes on wearing a cap, which is weird. I mean, besides bowler hats, fedoras and flatcaps, the actual peak cap’s out, right? And when he takes it off, he reveals a gaping bald spot. At one point, he kicks the cap off stage. I wonder if there’s something in it or if the Guinness is just taking over.

During the changeover. When all the sound guys are swapping things around and testing guitars and so on, The National drummer Bryan Devendorf comes out to practice his beats. Which is pretty unusual. Tonight’s the third night of the band’s sold-out three-night run. So maybe there’s a part he’s just trying to nail. Or even a bit he’s obsessed about and convinced himself he’s forgotten – I know how that goes.

The National’s a strange one. They give all old musicians hope. Somehow, their sound appeals to everyone. Well, not everyone. But, you know what I mean? They’re cutting edge. Hip. On the radar. And it’s all because the songs are so damn good. Also, Devendorf’s modern beats give them that edge. His drumming’s just so interesting. Almost Travis Barker-ish in parts (only much less manic).

The actual show’s a complete blur. The whole hall seems to be in a trance. Frontman Matt Berninger’s wearing his signature black suit and shiny shoes, leaning on the mic like a depressed Rat Packer. His voice is hypnotic. Majestic, even. And when he does lose it, his screams are just so fucking moving! During “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” leaning into an amp and hitting his sides with a flutter, it looks like he’s trying to get feedback from his face.

After “Fake Empire” – which sounds insane – the band goes off stage for a “theatrical pee break.” And after a few encores, including “Terrible Love” – nuts – they end with a no-mic, acoustic guitar version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” And even now, just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

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