Matt Berninger is something of an anomaly. You think you’ve got the lead singer of The National all figured out as he starts his set crooning his way through “Sea of Love” and “I Should Live in Salt”. ‘This is going to be pretty laidback,’ you say to yourself. Maybe it’s even a ‘let’s sit on the hill’ band. But that doesn’t do him or the rest of the five-piece justice. The truth is that The National rides on Berninger’s voice and he carries it to places you can’t imagine he’ll go.
Showcasing his unique set of tonsils on songs like “Mistaken for Strangers” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, Berninger didn’t stay mellow for long, shouting out the chorus to the former and encouraging a gigantic sing-along to the latter. Only addressing the crowd once, to tell one of the band member’s sons in the crowd that “Your dad says don’t take any drugs from strangers. Doesn’t matter to me, I’m not his Dad,” Berninger was deftly able to switch between the heavy hitters on the band’s setlist to the lesser-known tracks and make all of them sound perfect.
Blending songs from the band’s latest album, last year’s Trouble Will Find Me, with older favourites, the Cincinnati natives weren’t afraid to let the newer songs shine, rolling out a heartfelt rendition of “I Need My Girl” and a soft, beautiful performance of “Pink Rabbits”. The big ones were there too, though: Berninger smashed his head against a pillar while shouting out the lyrics to “Abel” before screaming through “Squalor Victoria” in a work of art you have to see live, because you’ll never find something like that on iTunes.
As the set drew to a close, with Berninger getting more and more antsy, you could tell something big was going to happen once the instrumentals to “Mr November” started playing. And it did, with the lead singer fighting off security guards to roam about 300 feet deep into the crowd, climbing over partitions as he shouted out “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November” like it was the last song he’d ever sing.
Thankfully, it wasn’t. Berninger crowd-surfed back to the stage, rolled into the masses again for “Terrible Love”, and then finished the set off with an arms-waving, desperate “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”.
Rare is the band that can ignite a sing-along with every song they play; even rarer is one that does so with reckless abandon. Hey, The National, please never change.