Interviews

The New Yorker Festival: A Conversation with "Dad Rock" Band The National

The National are impressed they get more women in the audience than Radiohead does.

The National

The New Yorker Festival

City: New York
Date: 2011-10-01

The three day long New Yorker Festival hosted conversations with some renowned authors (Malcolm Gladwell), seasoned politicians (Nancy Pelosi), esteemed actors (a reunion and big announcement from the cast of Arrested Development, comedians (Zach Galifiankis) and engaging musicians (Mavis Staples). The connections between the moderators and the panelists were frequently professional and collegial, but one event was arranged simply because the moderator was a fan.

Atul Gawande, a surgeon and writer for The New Yorker, earned enough clout to select whoever he wanted, so he picked the Brooklyn-based band The National to converse with. Apparently, their music plays in the background during his surgeries. "Psyched" and "giddy" to see the band, Gawande overlooked one small but important part of hosting an event: introducing the band members to the audience. Unfamiliar with each member, I wasted some time trying to figure out who was who. Other than lead singer Matt Beringer seated in the middle, the other four band members are two pairs of brothers - a fact that would have been worth sharing.

Gawande did succeed in exploring the band's history, each member coming from Ohio, by chance forming the band in New York and being led by the "counter-intuitive voice" Beringer possesses, eventually coming to the band's song-writing process. Apparently Aaron and Brice (the Dessner brothers) start by writing much of the music before passing it to Scott and Bryan (the Devendorf brothers) and then off again to Beringer who may possess "a lot of veto power". Listening to the process, it dawned on some of the audience that The National have difficulty crafting their albums because the members are like "different countries" where Beringer claims he is "Iran". As Gawande succinctly put it, "It doesn't sound like any fun at all". Asked what they enjoy, the band suggested that few of the members enjoy the performance. "In front of people under the lights" isn't a natural setting but they appreciate it when they sink "into the songs" and create a connection with the audience.

The National's musical performance, aided by a string group and some brass, touched on some non-album tracks and some rarities, as well as songs from their latest High Violet, for about forty five minutes. Seated in the crucible of an intimate theater and stunned by Beringer's powerful voice, the diverse audience unquestionably forged a bond with The National.

The National with Atul Gawande. Photo Credit: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

The National. Photo Credit: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Setlist:

Runaway

Exile Vilify

Think You Can Wait (Beringer flubbed the middle or "the good part")

Wasp Nest

Thirsty

England

Bloodbuzz Ohio

Fake Empire

Terrible Love

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