Show Review: The National at Fox Oakland, 5/26/10

by Kara Murphy on June 2, 2010

The National's Mike Berninger.

High Violet, the fifth full-length album from Cincinnati-bred, Brooklyn-based band The National, has defied the Law of Diminishing Returns for me: each and every subsequent listen of an individual track increases my level of aural pleasure not to mention obsession with dissecting every lyric, note, and hidden meaning behind the combination of both.

Lead singer Mike Berninger has flat out admitted to the fact that he’s incapable of scribing a song that isn’t melancholy in nature. Yet, there’s something beautifully uplifting in the tortured tales interwoven into the band’s signature blend of Americana, Britpop, and slight twinge of country-rock.

On Wednesday, May 26th, the band, which includes two sets of brothers, interestingly enough, performed at Fox Theater for the first of a two-night stop over in the Bay Area. Joined onstage by a small horn section, The National kicked off their set with hit “Mistaken for Strangers” from their previous full-length album, 2007’s Boxer. While the band and mini-orchestra were cohesive and in top-form, it was obvious that Berninger was nervous. It reverberated a bit with the rest of the members causing a bit of a hollow sound, overall, throughout the first part of the set.

However, Berninger mindfully kept a glass of wine close by that he drank from periodically and as the crowd clapped along in unison to some of the standout tracks, including “Secret Meeting” from their 2006 breakthrough release, Alligator, the sense of trepidation started to gradually fade.

The nearly sold-out crowd cheered the band on diligently as cocktail waitresses wove their way through with plastic cups of beer in order to keep as many people satiated as possible. At the conclusion of the set, the audience demanded an encore that kept the band on the stage and, thus, followed immediately as the applause died down.

It was in these final four songs of the set, beginning with “Runaway” off of High Violet, that the band really hit their stride and held nothing back. The crowd reacted accordingly with deafening levels of adulation which caused an overzealous Berninger to break the microphone during the second-to-last song of the set, “Mr. November.” They closed it out with the first track from High Violet which had the crowd, including the guy in front of me, fist pumping/clapping along in sheer elation.

While it wasn’t the greatest live performance I’ve ever been to, it was still astonishing to behold. The National are one of those rare bands that continues to improve upon their previous efforts and I can’t wait to find out what they come up with in the years to come. Below is the set-list from their set at Fox Theater:

1. Start A War
2. Mistaken For Strangers
3. Anyone’s Ghost
4. Bloodbuzz Ohio
5. Afraid Of Everyone
6. Secret Meeting
7. Slow Show
8. Squalor Victoria
9. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
10. Little Faith
11. Conversation 16
12. Apartment Story
13. Daughters Of The Soho Riots
14. Abel
15. Sorrow
16. England
17. Fake Empire

Encore:

18. Runaway
19. Lemonworld
20. Mr. November
21. Terrible Love

To view my set of full-size photos from the show, please click here. Audio files from my Blue Mic coming soon courtesy of The Owl Mag‘s Dustin Mitchell.

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