The National: 5 June 2013 - Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY (Photos)

The National returned to "where it all began" when they played the biggest headlining show of their career in Brooklyn.

The National
City: Brooklyn, NY
Venue: Barclays Center
Date: 2013-06-05

"We've played about thirty-five venues," in and around the area began The National's lead singer Matt Berninger, before adding the wry comment, "but this was always our favorite. This is where it all started". This was a few songs into the band's two hour performance at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the characteristic bit of dry humor wasn't the first nor the last spoken at the band's biggest headlining show of their career. For those fans who have followed the band's recent activities in and around New York City, they may have recognized another inside joke before "Sorrow", when Berninger said something to the extent of "we know this better than others". For those not in the know, just last month, the band performed the song for six straight hours as part of a performance art piece conceived by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson at MoMa PS1.

On another NYC-centric day, that the album's release, the band arranged to do at least three shows in the City, each in a tiny venue (if the small Sycamore bar could be considered a proper venue) for a band of this caliber. The band -- which includes Berninger plus the brothers Dessner (Aaron and Bryce) on guitars along with the other brother pair of Scott and Bryan Devendorf (on bass and drums respectively) didn't just put on an easy show to satisfy their fans who couldn't get into the tiny venues. Instead, they made the night a showcase of their work, particularly of their new album Trouble Will Find Me, complete with projected backdrops and additional musicians, including Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman) and Nadia Sirota, for the thousands in attendance.

Berninger's jokes were consistent throughout the night, though he recognized that not all of The National's lyrics were similarly wrought. He mentioned that "Conversation 16" was about the Atkin's diet and eating brains. The song, one of the highlights off of High Violet, and it's "I'm evil" chorus became one of the many moments in the evening where it sounded like the entire arena had joined in to sing along. Before going into the straightforwardly-titled "I Need My Girl", Berninger said, "this song has no clever metaphors it’s just about my wife". After Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) joined the band for the next song, "This is the Last Time", she gave hugs to a few in the band and left the stage. She was then chided for not hugging everyone on stage (though she didn't return to make amends).

The National's songs and music have their own consistency, yet remain a different breed from those of most bands. Their tunes (and the musicians) are adept enough to achieve infinite scalability; they are strong enough to provide an emotional punch in a small venue yet tense and teeming with enough energy to rock a large arena. Berninger's understated and occasionally overstressed vocals have as much to do with this musical characteristic as the Dessner brothers' dynamic guitars do. At one point, I thought I saw one of the brothers (stage right) bang a guitar down on its neck to produce a heavy tone from it -- while still wearing a guitar over his shoulders. Meanwhile, the frontman is capable of more than transforming his voice, he also can express ferocity in his stage presence. While Berninger was particularly restrained early in the set, brooding while drinking out of a red Solo cup, he let loose later -- during several songs, he stormed about the stage with his microphone stand in tow.

When the band began their five-song encore with "I Should Live in Salt", I was surprised in part because the band could have just ended with the previous song, "Fake Empire" (though it was still before 11 pm and seemed short of any curfew), but also because the song sounded much stronger live than I had anticipated. Perhaps the effects of the sonically triumphant main set closer were still lingering but this song had immediately hooked me on their newest album, Trouble Will Find Me, so that was adding to the excitement. Another High Violet favorite, the smoldering "Terrible Love" came soon after, demonstrating yet again how bombastic the band can be. And it could have been the end of the night there.

However, the band reconvened once more to conclude on a quieter note, performing "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" acoustically, while welcoming the entire arena to sing along -- something the audience clearly hadn't been afraid to do all night and were happy to do once again. Its a closure the band has done before, but it became a challenge of sorts for Berninger -- could his voice fill the arena without the aid of a microphone? Well he didn't avoid one altogether as it turned out. Overall the show came off as a tremendous success and the Brooklyn locals have achieved a major milestone in their career, demonstrating the majesty they can deliver. Perhaps the Barclays Center should hang a banner for The National alongside the ones with Nets' jersey numbers, or maybe not. We don't want them to retire just yet.


Don't Swallow the Cap

Bloodbuzz Ohio

Mistaken for Strangers

Sea of Love




Afraid of Everyone

Conversation 16

Squalor Victoria

I Need My Girl

This is the Last Time (w/ St. Vincent)


Apartment Story

Pink Rabbits



About Today

Fake Empire

[encore break]

I Should Live in Salt


Mr. November

Terrible Love

Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

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Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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