The National Make Magic At Nashville's Ryman Auditorium As 'TWFM' Tour Resumes

The National deliver a command performance in their return to Ryman Auditorium...
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The National returned to historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville last night and once again delivered an intense, astonishing performance featuring 10 of the 13 tracks from their latest album Trouble Will Find Me as well as staples from prior albums, including the tour debut of "Lucky You."

Last night was my fifth National show and am still a little surprised each time how well their brand of music translates live. They're not a guitar-driven band with virtuoso licks and their frontman looks more like a Russian Lit. professor at a small liberal arts college than a lead singer but there is mystery and magic in the music and the beautiful Ryman ambience only brings out more of the mystique and mood in these songs.

Among the unusual aspects of a National show is the complete disregard for tempo over the course of a setlist. They have no problem opening with a slow song like "I Should Live In Salt," a tune whose acoustic pattern strongly echoes David Bowie's "Space Oddity" as they did last night. They will follow one of the songs where frontman Matt Berninger loses his shit and starts screaming and play one of their slowest songs. It can be jarring and I wonder what it would be like if they created blocks that let tempo shift more gradually but the overall impact is never lost because the intensity never waivers even if the pacing does.

The new songs from Trouble worked well and they played most of the songs from the record they've played throughout the tour. "Heavenfaced" instead of "Humiliation" was a rare switch and there is a good reason. "Humiliation" translates better live (I heard "Humiliation" when the band streamed their Brooklyn performance). "This Is The Last Time" worked better live than I expected and was an emotional highlight in the set. "Don't Swallow The Cap" and "Sea Of Love" came across best of the new songs with "Graceless" being just on their heels.

The real stunner of the night was the tour premiere of "Lucky You," which appears on Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers and a superior version was performed for Daytrotter and included on The Virgina EP. This song does not get frequently played and no one in the audience saw it coming. Having now heard it, I politely command them to make this one less of a stranger in their sets. It was intimate and devastating to the point of being uncomfortable as so many of their songs are (at least for me).

"About Today" is neither a rarity nor a regular; I've been fortunate to hear it performed more than once and something about last night's performance resonated. It blew me up when I first heard it in Knoxville on the High Violet tour with Padma Newsome's mournful violin lacerating me. Newsome is not touring with the band at present, allowing the 2-man horn section to fill in those gaps. I can't explain what it was that did it but it gave me chills, an involuntary physical response to a special performance.

I wish I was going to Atlanta for tonight's show. I never tire of these songs, even though they really could do a little better job of rotating some of their older songs ("Lucky You" notwithstanding) but the show works even though the songs don't obviously lend themselves to the stage and the setlist sequences seem random. The National have found a unique way to connect with an audience through their music and

The National once again demonstrated their unique way of connecting with an audience yet again with a performance nothing short of pheomenal. They could do a better job of rotating some of their older songs ("Lucky You" not withstanding) yet I never tire of them because, as Berninger remarked between "All The Wine" and "Abel," these songs know each other. It's obvious they do and they also know me. I wish I was going to be in Atlanta to be introduced to them one more time tonight.

  1. I Should Live in Salt
  2. Don't Swallow The Cap
  3. Bloodbuzz Ohio
  4. Demons
  5. Sea Of Love
  6. Slipped
  7. Afraid Of Everyone
  8. Conversation 16
  9. Squalor Victoria
  10. I Need My Girl
  11. This Is The Last Time
  12. All The Wine
  13. Abel
  14. Lucky You
  15. Pink Rabbits
  16. Graceless
  17. England
  18. About Today
  19. Fake Empire

  20. Heavenfaced
  21. Mr. November
  22. Terrible Love
  23. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks