Or: That time my ears creamed their pants.
If there's one thing I'm grateful for, it's that while I was still in Barcelona, truly wonderful pal of mine offered to buy me a ticket to see the National in Melbourne. That pal goes by the name of Tony and I am so, so, so glad I said yes to his offer.
Sunday night just gone, we made our way to The Palais in St Kilda via an overpriced and underwhelming "seafood tasting plate" (at Republica Bar ... "meh" is my verdict) to watch Matt Berninger and company send our ears to be lost in auditory bliss.
Like I said, at the time of purchasing said tickets, I was still overseas. As such, I'd found myself somewhat behind with the times as far as musical releases went. With no chance to buy or download anything, I'd been listening to the same things over and over again. Granted, just before setting off I had well and truly raided Dave's, Mitch's and some uni pals' hard drives for winnin' tunez but still, my ears were growing restless. For instance, I had listened to Yeasayer's All Hour Cymbals pretty much on repeat between Brussels and Amsterdam and GODDAMN IT did I crave Odd Blood. Similarly, I would gaze longingly at posters for Neil Young's latest, but I knew in my heart of hearts (the very same that is in love with dear old Neil) that it'd be impractical for me to buy the CD. Oh, the humanity! Apologies for the tangent, but it really did cramp my style. Anyway. When I returned home I finally bought myself a copy of High Violet and fuck me gently with a chainsaw, did I ever fall in love with it straight away. I'm not kidding. I was immediately bowled over, punched in the gut and the face by the album. Truly beautiful. As is, of course, Boxer. Is it bad that those are the only two albums of theirs on my iPod? Maybe. I apologise. Sorry. That isn't to say that I wasn't any less OH MY GOD EXCITED. My god, was I excited.
A few days earlier I saw the Mystery Jets play at the Hi Fi, and spent a small yet annoying portion of the time spent at the gig being kind of pissed off at the obnoxious drunken teenage louts in attendance. Thankfully, our fellow audience members at The Palais was decidedly the opposite of that description. Perhaps at times a little too far from that description, but you know. That was for one of Tony's friends to laugh about At any rate, I definitely found time for quite a bit of perving before entering the theatre proper, and I found myself lamenting the fact that Brian was not by my side. Both the band and those there to bask in their glory would have been right up his alley. I'm sorry, Brian.
Townsville band The Middle East provided the support, a band of whom I had only heard one song; "Blood", thanks to Triple J's Hottest 100 (was it the last one or the one before? I can't remember). Despite only having heard one of their songs, I was quite looking forward to seeing what they'd be like in the flesh. "Flesh" used loosely of course. Tony (who I'm eternally grateful to, by the way) had chosen seats in the dress circle. For those not in the know, that's the top section. On the other hand, Tony explained that he'd been at work, and being that he has a job in the medical field, he happened to have a patient in the throes of near-death. Or something like that. So I have to say I agree with the choice made between human life and awesome seats. Well played, Tony. Then again, the Palais is really rather beautiful, grand, old ... so the view from the nosebleed seats (which really weren't nosebleed seats) was still pretty great. But back to the Middle East. Unfortunately we only managed to catch the second half of their set, but I really dug it. Most enjoyable. Note to self, go to one of their gigs.
I whiled away the time in between The Middle East and The National by quizzing Tony's adorable pal about his top five favourite films. It's a (bad?) habit I have, immediately asking anyone I meet that seems even vaguely interesting what their top five are. I think you can tell a lot about a person by their favourite flicks, especially if they don't think about it too long. I'm not proud to say that once or twice I've immediately gone off a person due to a lacklustre top five. Luckily for this guy, and the evening as a whole, he passed the test. Evening, definitely off to a good start. I was probably in the middle of telling him some useless cinema fact when suddenly the lights dimmed and all my attention was suddenly zeroed in on the stage like a laser.
The band opened with "Runaway", drenched with moody purple lighting. Sublime. They then launched into "Mistaken for Strangers". I could feel Tony next to me, squirming in his seat in excitement and National-love. He mentioned after the gig that he hadn't expected Matt Berninger's voice to be as strong live. I don't know what the hell I was expecting, but oh lordy I do declare, Mr Berninger's baritone was absolutely beautiful. Immediately after "Mistaken for Strangers" (and from memory, a little bit of terribly endearing banter), the band played "Anyone's Ghost". Incidentally, that's one of my favourite tracks from High Violet. I felt the overwhelming urge to get up and have a little bit of a joyous boogie, and craning my neck I could see the crowd directly in front of the be-suited band doing just that. Unfortunately two girls a few rows in front of us were ordered to sit down by a man behind them, and I cursed the overly still and calm crowd around us. Luckily, I was distracted from that downbeat realisation by the music in my ears. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" followed "Anyone's Ghost", and the crowd erupted into cheers. I messaged Brian immediately, something along the lines of "BLOOOOOOOODBUZZZZZZZZZ".
He didn't reply.
At any rate, "Bloodbuzz Ohio" was simply gorgeous. I really do enjoy Berninger's interesting phrasing as perhaps compensation for a lack of vocal range. I could hear Tony have a bit of a singalong beside me, and could see Berninger doing that funny kind of kick, shuffle move that he does, and I had to grin to myself as I realised what a fucking goddamn good time I was having. Ever get those realisations? The "Shit son, I am genuinely happy!" moment when a smile spreads over your face and everything seems peachy keen for a while.
I have to admit, at the risk of being "the one that only looks forward to the songs from the most recent album", "Afraid of Everyone" and "Conversation 16" were two tracks I was looking forward to immensely. They ended up following one another after "Squalor Victoria". To me, "Afraid of Everyone" didn't quite reach heart-wrenching climax it could have, but it was still one of the highlights of the evening. You may have seen various videos of The National performing live, but Matt Berninger does this thing, this thing where he'll stride around the stage, and yell (just, yell) off-mic at various band members, or the floor, or whatever. It's great. It seems as if he's psyching himself, trying to send himself into some sort of frenzy. Superb. This particular performance trait of Berninger's was gloriously on show during "Afraid of Everyone", much to my delight.
As t night went on, the band proved themselves to not only be superb musicians but also possessing as a whole, a incredibly endearing self-deprecating sense of humour. Their banter yielded some genuinely funny moments, something that certainly is in contrast with a number of their songs. Namely "Sorrow", a song that Tony's recently-broken-up-with pal had drily remarked was the only song he needed to hear that night. As the opening strains of said song began, Ben grinned at us. "Sorrow, man!" he said, resulting in our small posse laughing during the opening of a particularly melancholy tune.
"Abel" (hooray!) followed "Sorrow" from memory, and I remember "England" and "Fake Empire" closing their set. Which, of course, were both gorgeous. The encore? "Lemonworld" began it, then came "Mr November" and "Terrible Love". Again, winner. Especially considering during "Terrible Love" Mr Berninger decided to wander into the crowd, shouting and wailing and singing. Cheers and excitement seemed to emanate from the crowd below us, and only then did my fellow nosebleed audience members stand up, necks craned searching for a glimpse of the goings-on. Unfortunately, as soon as the song finished most people promptly sat down again. I don't know what everyone considers correct theatre gig etiquette, but I enjoy standing up and having a bit of a boogie. A good boogie mind you, completely devoid of the "white man's overbite" particular type of dance move. So it was rather irritating, to feel compelled by the actions of those around us to spend the last portion of such a lovely and amazing gig sitting down like some sort of well-behaved member of society. Luckily, THEN. Oh lordy, then. Then came a moment of instruments being placed down by various members of the band (bar guitarist, from memory), and the mic being discarded by Matt, and all five men perched themselves at the edge of the stage. And so began an unplugged, theatre-wide singalong of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks". I found this clip (or rather, Tony did. I lie.) on the 'tubes, and it'll be my parting statement regarding a simply gorgeous night. I know my use of "gorgeous" is somewhat excessive at this point in time, but it's pretty fucking apt.