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matt berninger

In the middle of the National’s show at the Pabst on Friday, someone in the band thanked Milwaukee, saying, “The last time we played here, there were like, 20 people around.”

There were substantially a lot more in attendance that night. It wasn’t a packed house, but it was close to it, and most everybody crowded around stage to see singer Matt Berninger and brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf. Padma Newsome, Aussie violinist, was around to play wicked violin, sing some harmonies and play some keys as well.

For the most part, the band, who produced the best melodic morosity these past two years via the albums “The Boxer” and “Alligator,” lived up up to my expectations. It was majestic and sorrowful, and it was great to see Matt Berninger delivering his handsome baritone into an uplifted mic.

It wouldn’t have been hard to please me, though. Both albums have been played over 100 times in my iPod and iTunes combined, so the National really could do no wrong. It sounded, as the audience sang along to most of the songs, like I wasn’t alone either. The band seemed to appreciate playing at the Pabst as well, saying “it seems almost too beautiful to drink in.”

There were obvious signs of touring strain. Some songs, such as the awesome “Abel,” the band seemed to just go through to get it over with. Maybe Berninger pulling back on the emotion; maybe he was just sick, as I saw him hacking during breaks. An audience member I spoke with after the show called the band derivative. Maybe what was missing was that magical quiet that really grabs your gut when listening to the National. Maybe it was just that after months of listening to them in my room, in my car, while running — seeing them move around a stage was just demystifying and anti-climactic.

Stil, by the time they did the final song, “Mr. November,” I was happy. It wasn’t the best show I’d seen all year — or even all month — but they didn’t f**k us over.

the national

Set List:
Start A War
Mistaken for Strangers
Secret Meeting
Brainy
Baby
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Abel
All the Wine
Racing Like a Pro
Ada
City Middle
Apartment Story
Daughters
Fake Empire
About Today

Encore
Green Gloves
Mr. November