Review: The National - Van Nord Arena - Grand Rapids, MI (Apr 12, 2014)

The National play staples and surprises in Grand Rapids, MI
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The National delivered another passionate, riveting performance in Grand Rapids, MI as they continue the 2014 leg of their North American tour in support of their Grammy-nominated 2013 release Trouble Will Find Me.

The setlist drew heavily from Trouble with nine songs forming the foundation for the evening. They mixed in staples from their catalog and worked in a couple surprises, including one that stumped and astonished me.

"Sea Of Love" was a rollocking, electric opener to the show and quickly doused that energy by following it up with "Sorrow" from High Violet and another TWFM cut "I Should Live In Salt."

"Bloodbuzz Ohio" has become a fan favorite and was one of the louder singalong moments of the evening, which led into powerful presentations of "Demons" and "Don't Swallow The Cap." "Demons" is one of my favorites from TWFM but it didn't connect as well live when I heard them do it at Ryman Auditorium last year. It was much better tonight.

You didn't have to be Nostradamus to guess Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, the opening act for tonight's show, would make her way to the stage for a number and she did, joining for "This Is The Last Time." It was a predictable use of the talented (and quite possibly batshit loony) vocalist. I would have given quite a lot to hear her fill in for Sharon Von Etten on "Think You Can Wait" but that was not to be.

The first of the two big surprises happened after Worden left. It's no great secret "Lemonworld" was a difficult song for the band to record during the making of High Violet and was quickly jettisoned from setlists on that tour. The band joked from the stage about the difficulties before launching into it. I hadn't heard it since their 2010 show in Knoxville just prior to that album's release. The performance tonight was strong and yet it is clear they still haven't solved the riddle of this song. The woozy, emotional "Pink Rabbits" was the highlight of the second half of the main set while they seemed to struggle a bit with "Graceless." "About Today" and "Fake Empire" have become expected main set closers and with good reason.

The big shock of the night came with the first song of the encore: "Son" from their self-titled debut. Kids, I own every National record and have bought the deluxe editions, singles, compilations, and all manner of scraps of their music. I was shocked when they said they were doing one from their first album and stumped when they played it. I didn't recognize "Son" until I got back to the ranch and listened to it again and then it all clicked. This is the first time it's been played since 2011.

The remainder of the encore included the standard "Mr. November," during which I was nearly decapitated by frontman Matt Berninger's microphone cord as he staggered into the audience, "Terrible Love," and "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks." Worden again came to the stage for this singalong and the band took its final bow.

The National will be in Chicago for four shows next week and so will I. Tonight was a fantastic appetizer for what is still to come. "Hard To Find" and "Son" were both adds for me, for those of you keeping score at home. That's two adds and four shows still to go. I believe I'll return to Alabama with a few more adds before this adventure concludes as I still haven't gotten "Humiliation" from Trouble or "Lean" from The Hunger Games 2 soundtrack, both of which are frequently played.

Stay tuned, dear readers, and join me on my musical adventure. Here's the full setlist:

The National
Van Nord Arena | Grand Rapids, MI
April 12, 2014

  1. Sea Of Love
  2. Sorrow
  3. I Should Live In Salt
  4. Bloodbuzz Ohio
  5. Demons
  6. Don't Swallow The Cap
  7. Hard To Find
  8. Afraid Of Everyone
  9. Conversation 16
  10. Squalor Victoria
  11. I Need My Girl
  12. This Is The Last Time (w/ Shara Worden)
  13. Lemonworld
  14. Abel
  15. Slow Show
  16. Pink Rabbits
  17. Graceless
  18. About Today
  19. Fake Empire

  20. Son
  21. Mr. November
  22. Terrible Love
  23. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (w/ Shara Worden)