Cincinnati indie rock legends The National has always been a band that’s been recommended to me for years and years. For some reason I avoided really doing a deep dive on the band for quite a long time. On Labor Day I got a chance to see them perform at the Greek Theatre, and it all makes total sense now.
The first time I saw a song of theirs performed live was by Creeper Lagoon a few years ago — one of my favorite bands growing up. A half-dozen songs into their set Monday, I heard “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and instantly recognized its catchy “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe” chorus and bobbed my head along.
The National lead singer Matt Berninger brings a ton of charisma to the live shows. He climbed into the crowd multiple times, pretty much all the way through the “A” section of the Greek Theatre, also standing on the hands of the crowd to deliver some of the more cutting lyrics during the set. At one point, he even grabbed a fan’s phone and serenaded it directly. You can definitely say Matt Berninger has “Big Frontman Energy” — especially amazing when you consider he looks like a high school math teacher.
The band leaned heavily on their 2019 record I Am Easy to Find, and one thing I noticed is how much that material was heavy on the piano and also heavy on backup vocals. Accompanying The National in the live show were Kate Stables (of This Is The Kit) of the UK and Hannah Georgas of Canada. They stood out the most on new album offerings “Rylan” and “Not in Kansas”.
Berninger’s signature deep vocals border on conversational on the newest record’s tunes, but the songs I ended up going home and listening to afterwards were older favorites “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, the latter of which they played off microphone accompanied by a huge crowd singalong.
Opening the show were perennial favorite of mine Alvvays from Nova Scotia. They’ve really grown as live performers over the years, and it’s sometimes great to see a band so far out of their album cycle because it reminds you how great they are. I burned a hole in the last two records from Alvvays as they were in constant rotation, and their awesome show gave me a reason to go back and digest them a thousandth time. “In Undertow” reminded me why it was one of my favorite songs the year they dropped it. Lead singer Molly Rankin was wearing some stylish Matt Berninger-esque sunglasses to begin the set. Though they only played about a minute or so of a new song I haven’t heard, I can’t wait to see them drop some new material soon.
Photos by Danielle Gornbein