Hipsters that filled the Brooklyn Academy of Music Saturday night were on the older side but no less plaid worthy for a concert with The National. There were huge cameras everywhere to capture the event live on YouTube as directed by D.A. Pennebaker, including one on a big boom swinging inches above heads – someone in the balcony had to duck quickly at one point sending chuckles through the crowd.
The band opened with “Mistaken for Strangers” off Boxer after some nasty feedback but then rolled into their signature sound with a full complement of musicians (including appearances by Sufjan Stevens plus members of the Arcade Fire) and an impressive light show. Matt Berninger’s deep baritone gives off a laid back vibe but this guy clearly takes his frontman duties seriously. Flanked by the twins on dueling guitars, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, Berninger was constantly pounding a fist into the other hand and energetically pacing the stage. The other set of brothers, Bryan Devendorf on drums, and Scott on bass played their supporting roles along with horn section, strings and a full array of keyboards. The guys grew up in Cincinnati where they formed the band in 1999 but are now based in Brooklyn.
The band then lit into the new release High Violet with “Anyone’s Ghost” by the third song, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, Berninger climbed down into the pit and up the aisles to get people out of their seats. The more formal Howard Gillman Opera House setting had the crowd a bit more reticent but now most everyone would be on their feet for the rest of the concert. Back up on stage Berninger ran off to get a towel, then hung it on the mike stand saying it looked like “Aerosmith shit.” Mellower moments came with “Little Faith” and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” with Bryce Dessner bowing his guitar. A golden light then filled the stage for plaintive “Terrible Love” with achingly soaring vocals.
It was touted as a hometown performance and indeed they announced a special song just for Brooklyn. Ironically, it was called “England” and the banter turned to those in the UK that might be watching the YouTube broadcast late in the night. Berninger called them “Losers” but Aaron Dessner immediately refuted his remark as a statesman for the group. He also reminded the audience that their show was in support of their connection to the Red Hot as proceeds for the reasonable $25 tickets went directly to the organization which is dedicated to fighting AIDS/HIV worldwide. Last year’s 20th Red Hot CD, Dark Was the Night, was produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner and featured many fellow indie groups.
“Fake Empire” concluded the set and then the band returned for four more songs. During “Mr. November” Berninger climbed back down into the pit all the way up an aisle and then into a row in the middle of the orchestra – singing into his mike held high, still attached by chord to the stage. He began climbing over the rows of seats before hopping back down the aisle to the adoring cheers of the crowd. “Terrible Love” then closed the show.
Small business cards given to the audience on way out offered a free MP3 and video download online with a special code. As sponsored by American Express new Zync card, the marketing strings attached via email information which is needed to receive the downloads (within a lengthy two weeks!) Of course this means receiving future promotions as well. The after party around the corner was also sponsored by the corporation—the interior looked like the set of Blur’s video for “The Universal” with everything in white, even the Night Light martini cocktails. Guests easily provided the color.