Sold-out crowd salutes the National’s anthems
Now that indie rockers the National have hit the big time — their fifth album recently debuted in the Billboard top five — maybe they can invest in a cordless microphone for frontman Matt Berninger.
Or maybe not. As the band’s dynamic show came to a close Wednesday night, there was something sweetly comic about Berninger wending his way to the very back of a sold-out House of Blues and hopping atop the bar with a seemingly endless microphone cord — requiring its own roadies — trailed out behind him as he wailed through the dramatic climax of “Terrible Love.’’
That moment neatly summed up the winning combination of earnestness, outrageousness, and good humor that flowed from the group’s hour-and-45-minute performance, the first of two shows at the venue by the Brooklyn (by way of Cincinnati) quintet.
Touring behind the dense and rhythmically idiosyncratic “High Violet,’’ the National — aided by a trio of touring musicians including a two-man horn section — proved to be the best kind of thoughtful rock band: taking their work, but not themselves, seriously.
Berninger leavened the broody moods of tunes like “Runaway’’ and “Sorrow’’ with quick quips and outsize gestures. Drummer Bryan Devendorf, the band’s linchpin, switched up rhythms with athletic agility, skittering through “All the Wine,’’ stomping into “Baby, We’ll Be Fine,’’ and applying a hypnotizing shudder and sway to many of the rest of the songs.
Although he joked “that’s our pop number’’ after “Anyone’s Ghost,’’ Berninger shouldn’t sell the band short — or oversell its obtuseness — since the group demonstrated a deep reserve of hooks in the tackle box, including the relentless chorus of “Mr. November’’ and the boppy melody “Lemonworld.’’ And there was no shortage of memorable one-liners in the National arsenal either, as in the unsettling zombie-esque lyrics of “Conversation16’’: “I was afraid I’d eat your brains ’cause I’m evil.’’
Brooklyn’s the Antlers differed in temperament, offering a more keening vocal style and a dusting of psychedelia, but shared a complementary widescreen sound with the headliners.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.