Beards, Blazers & (Frat) Boys?: The National
I'll spare the long-winded review of the National show. I've made my thoughts on the band clear on one, or two, or three occasions. They're a very good band with an even better live show, so it really shouldn't come as much a surprise that the El Rey was packed to the gills with fans, bristling with anticipation at the prospect of seeing the cuts from Boxer performed live in Los Angeles for the first time.
Stranger was the make-up of the crowd, with nary a hipster in sight. In their stead were sorority girls, frat boys, in-the-know slick Hollywood types and the few die-hards that have been down with the cause since Day 1 (if day one means when Alligator was released). Granted, the El Rey is on the Westside, but still... I'm not trying to play the "oh man, if you didn't see them on tour with Clap Your Hands in '05 then you're totally out of the know" card either (though they really did blow CYHSY out of the water). But it still defies logic that the National have become a "trendy" band.
I mean take a look at these guys, there is absolutely nothing trendy about them. Nothing. Just a bunch of unpretentious dudes in work shirts and jeans. And we're not talking a bunch of jaded wispy hipsters named Casablancas and Fabrizio, these guys are far from pretty boys. Not to hate on them, as I have the utmost respect for the band, but there's a reason why Ian Cohen and I have spent a great deal of time debating whether or not The National or Asobi Seksu are the least attractive band in America. (my vote still goes to Asobi, save for their lead singer)
As for their sound, it isn't pretty populist Shins-esque pop, or Arcade Fire-like bombast. Their tunes certainly display first rate songwriting and craft, but essentially the last two National records are what everyone wished Interpol would've done after Turn on the Bright Lights. Meanwhile, National lead singer Matt Berninger does the whole Ian Curtis thing as well as anyone can, but it ain't like he's exactly that charismatic. He rarely talks to the crowd and his stage demeanor vacillates between two nearly indistinguishable variations: rocking mode and swaying mode. With the rocking mode featuring Berninger performing a move that vaguely resembles the Mongolian Chop as performed by Kin Korn Karn in the old NES game Pro Wrestling.
And yet no one in the crowd cared a bit. The affected LA Westsiders weren't exactly rocking out, (probably because the set leaned heavily on Alligator), but I did see a couple frat boys raising the roof, and after the show the unanimous sentiment seemed to be in favor of the band's awesomeness. I couldn't argue with them either. It was my second time seeing the band in as many weeks and both performances were stellar, further evidence that they are one of the best bands making music today. Just don't be surprised if the next time you see them live, the cans of PBR are strangely absent. Judging from these dudes' new fan base, it's strictly jaeger shots, brah.
All photos courtesy of Akmal Naim. Check out his Flickr page for more outstanding shots.
MP3: The National-"Fake Empire"
MP3: The National-"Mistaken For Strangers"