Thursday, May 29, 2008

CONCERT: This is why I love music.

Amidst all the great music we enjoyed at Sasquatch, there was one experience that stood out far above everything else, and that was The National's impromptu set near the end of the day on Saturday.

It was especially memorable because for about half of the day we weren't even sure if they'd be playing. Apparently they'd had automotive problems somewhere in Canada, so they weren't able to make their scheduled 4:20 time on the main stage. Since they'd actually been one of the major reasons why we made our pilgrimage all the way out to the Gorge anyway, we were all pretty disappointed when we heard they might not make it. But after some re-arranging and string-pulling, some of the festival's organizers made it possible for them to play later in the day on one of the smaller stages. We rejoiced, and likewise adjusted our concert schedules. We ended up not seeing Okkervil River and most of Modest Mouse's set in order to be front and center for when they finally came out after a personal introduction by Rainn Wilson (you know - he plays Dwight on some show on NBC).

The whole band looked a little beleaguered and very appreciative that we were still there to see them. With a short thank you, they started their set with 'Start a War', letting it gently build to its pounding conclusion, strings and drums galore. Matt Berninger's vocal delivery was absolutely mesmerizing to watch, as was the entire band's flawless dynamic - they played so tightly beneath Matt's morose voice that it was almost unbelievable that there were actually eight different people on stage. They all seemed to possess the same amount of care and urgency for the music on songs like 'Abel', 'Slow Show' and 'Apartment Story', seeming almost on the verge of tears at the end of each song's climactic finish - add that to the relief and appreciation that we felt for actually getting to see them, and you might have an idea of how it felt to watch this band close out the day with the sun slowly going down behind them.

The moment that summed up this entire experience for me was just after they finished their set with a heart-wrenching performance of 'Mr. November' and quickly got off stage. Fully aware that encores are not normal festival occurrences, we still refused to move, and instead kept cheering. I turned around and saw that the hundreds that surrounded the stage were being just as stubborn, even though Modest Mouse was just around the corner finishing up their set. We kept on cheering until I saw one of the techs smiling and emphatically waving the band back on. As the members of the National stepped back on stage, they looked grateful and maybe even a bit sheepish, as Matt gave us another thank-you and they launched into 'About Today', complete with strings and guitars wailing at the end. When they finished and finally got down, we all stood there looking at each other, speechless. This is what we'd come for.

Every now and then I hear a performance and I feel like just maybe it was as meaningful for that musician as it was for me, like there was some sort of connection between the notes and the shared experience we were all having. I may be completely wrong, but even if the members of the National didn't have the special experience that we did that night, well then its just a testament to the powerful music they're making and the great performers that they are. This is why I love music.

Here's the setlist:

Start a War/Brainy/Secret Meeting/Baby, We'll Be Fine/Mistaken for Strangers/Slow Show/Squalor Victoria/Abel/Racing like a Pro/Ada/Apartment Story/Fake Empire/Mr. November

Encore: About Today (from the Cherry Tree EP)

Here's some songs:
from the album Boxer (Amazon/iTunes)

from The Black Session

And here's some pictures:


Cherish said...

Beautiful. I know exactly what you are talking about.

ambrown said...

This was such a stellar concert.

I'm the dude in picture four, with a black and white striped shirt on the far right. I promise I had a better time than this looked.