GRAMMY Award Winning Band The National Continues Their Triumphant Career At The Hollywood Palladium.
The National and Phoebe Bridgers performed at the Hollywood Palladium for two nights, and both acts put on an absolutely phenomenal show complete with fantastic instrumentals, deeply moving vocals, and an incredible stage performance. Both acts cemented themselves as artists at their peaks, yet nowhere near their decline.
Phoebe Bridgers started the night with a tight 30 minute set. Utilizing her high-pitched vocal style, Bridgers seemed almost angelic in comparison to the darker (but nevertheless stunning) delivery of The National’s Matt Berninger. Whereas Berninger’s lyrical word-vomit/poetry feel created to accompany the instrumentals of The National, Bridger’s vocals appeared to juxtapose this methodical approach. Although the music seemed built around her lyrics and vocal delivery, rather than accenting it, this approach thankfully worked wonderfully in her favor.
One of the joys of seeing The National live comes from the fact that their sets are never exactly the same. Due to the versatile nature of these musicians, and the wide discography they have at their disposal, The National is never at a loss at keeping the audience entertained. Despite launching their critically acclaimed album “Sleep Well Beast” only a year ago, the band kept true to their roots by employing a variety of songs. Beginning the set with as-of-yet unreleased “Light Years,” and moving backwards towards earlier efforts such as “The Geese of Beverly Road” off 2005’s Alligator, and “Wasp Nest” from the eternally underrated Cherry Tree EP, The National shows their confidence as musicians. They’re able to play to their drunken-fueled strengths, and they absolutely know it. Of course, hits such as “Mr. November,” “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” “Pink Rabbits,” and “Fake Empire” ( “A song dedicated to John Kerry” Berninger quipped) all made their appearance as well.
Obviously, this wouldn’t be a “National” show if it didn’t include some wild stage antics. Bringing Phoebe Bridgers back out for “I Need My Girl” was a fantastic choice, as Bridgers take on the song, as well as her harmonization with Berninger elevated the song to new emotional heights. Throughout the show, Berninger went off stage, but it was the song “Graceless” where Berninger fully immersed himself in his own world. Watching him pull audience members faces together (or sometimes forehead to forehead) with his own, and screaming in their faces was enough to make everyone swarm and swoon. And as per usual, he even took someone’s phone from their hands, and recorded himself on it mid-song. Yet, despite the unit Berninger’s ability to steal the spotlight, the Dessner and Devendorf twins remained as reliable as ever. With most songs building up to climatic, end-all finales, the crowd remained transfixed from the first moment due to their powerful playing, and occasionally mesmerizing solos.
None of this touches upon the fantastic visual elements which went on throughout the set. Capturing “Bloodbuzz Ohio” in its typical red glow, or washing the stage in a sea of rainbow throughout “I Should Live In Salt” (dedicated to Tom!) played exquisitely into ensuring the audience would react accordingly to whatever the band deemed fit. Overall, the lights added a sense of finality and emphasis to every song. One exceptional instance saw Aaron taking center stage, lights flashing, holding his guitar high above, like a man aiming for a killing blow, and relentlessly strummed the hell out of his axe.
All in all, The National is clearly at its peak right now, and shows no sign of slowing down. If its so far taken them only some 15 odd years to achieve this level of greatness, then the world should shudder at what they could next bring to the table.
Review by: Peter Swan
Photos by: Sylvia Borgo