The National delivers intense performance to a crowd both young and old


Alec Wyman

Matt Berninger of The National performs at ACL Live on Monday evening.

Roy Cathey

The National took the Moody Theater stage Monday night as a seven piece band, though the band’s energy rested on the shoulders of lead singer Matt Berninger, who seemed to carry the role of frontman as a burden. Dressed in an all-black suit, he was desperate to get away from his microphone, throwing it on the ground and beating it against his head.

If he wasn’t singing, Berninger would neurotically pace around the stage, mumbling to himself or his bandmates. He treated his in-ear monitor like a parasite, picking at it during the entire show trying to curb the discomfort.

These are all just stray neuroticisms compared to Berninger’s performance when he stood in front of the mic. Any desperation he felt about stepping away was channeled into the delivery of the songs dealing with a similar plight: the feeling of assuming a role while simultaneously trying to run away from it.

Always clutching the microphone in both hands, Berninger would start crooning the lyrics in his classic baritone, slowly moving toward a state of unrest, which ultimately led to Berninger shouting the once softly spoken lyrics at an audience that couldn’t get enough.

While Berninger was the welcomed focal point of the show, the band did a fantastic job translating The National’s songs for a live performance, most notably the cathartic crescendo during “About Today.” At one point, guitarist Bryce Dessner held his guitar upside down and banged the headstock on the ground at the beginning of “I Need My Girl,” producing a distorted growl that accompanied Berninger’s equally low register.

At the end of the show, The National played its revered “Mr. November,” a politically charged anthem that had the crowd yelling along with Berninger. As the first chorus began, Berninger approached the edge of the stage, letting his fans pull him into the crowd. This is the point when most performers surf on top of their fans, showcasing the mutual trust between a person and his supporters. Berninger wasn’t much up for surfing and decided instead to assimilate completely into the crowd, his microphone cord the only thing pinpointing his location in the swarm of fans hoping to get close enough to touch him.

Finally finished with his obligation as frontman, Berninger ripped his monitor out of his ear and threw it on the ground. Berninger then prompted the crowd to finish the set with him by singing along to an acoustic version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.”

With Monday’s performance, The National proved yet again that it’s OK to feel just as lost and sorrowful in their 40s as people do when they’re in their 20s.