The National Open Chicago Residency With Safe Setlist, Powerful Performance (April 15, 2014)

The National offer a fine performance in the first of four shows in Chicago...
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This is it! Opening night! The National kicked off the first of four nights in Chicago at the Chicago Theater in support of their Grammy-nominated 2013 album Trouble Will Find Me.

So much to say about this opening salvo and I fear I won't strike the right balance so bear with me, dear readers. The performance tonight was mostly stellar with only a few bumps along the way. I should also mention how great the sound in the Chicago Theater is. What a lovely room to hear music in! Now if I could just get my fellow attendees to shut the fuck up and, you know, listen to the music being played. I digress: this was a fantastic performance in a gorgeous room with good sight lines and excellent sound. I loved the show and am glad to have been there.

But...

Longtime readers know I am a setlist snob and thus we begin with an airing of the grievances: tonight's setlist was entirely too safe and predictable

I know what you're thinking and you're wrong: I understand this is the opening night of a four-night stand and they will very likely open things up over the course of this residency. That is still no reason to play it this safe, especially when the one big change-up in tonight's set kicked off the emotional core of the evening.

"Ada" had not been played since 2010 which is just unforgivable because it was brilliant tonight. The horn arrangement was crisp and Matt Berninger's vocal was spot on. Not only was it a wonderfully played surprise, it kicked off a deeply satisfying suite that included "Pink Rabbits," "England," "Graceless," "About Today," and finally "Fake Empire." Those final five are a standard sequence but being led off by "Ada" gave them a new life.

I even understand why "Squalor Victoria" and " Abel" get played so often. Berninger increases the intensity and it sends shivers through the crowd if you've never heard them before but you have. They're both good songs but each could use a timeout and if they don't wish to bench both, they can clearly rotate these two and free a slot for another song. Might I suggest... "Ada" as a replacement from Boxer. Yes, "Squalor" was fantastic again tonight but there are ways to get that dynamic into the set without playing these two songs every night!

"Ada" was the big setlist gift tonight but the encore featured another rarity in the form of "Learning," a cover of a song by Perfume Genius. This is something the band recently rotated into sets and I suppose it pleases me to have heard it performed well once even though I would have preferred a rare National song in that slot. "Lemonworld" had been absent from setlists for ages until their show in Grand Rapids. It remained in the set tonight and sounded even better.

Round 1 is in the books. One down, three to go. This is how you vacation, amigos. Stick around and follow the fun with me!

Here's the full setlist:

The National
Chicago Theater | Chicago, IL
April 15, 2014 

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

  21. Learning
  22. Mr. November
  23. Terrible Love
  24. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks