There’s that one band where you have a very personal, private connection with them. Explaining your reasoning for liking them so much is something you entrust specific people with. Because you’re not just telling them why you like a band. You’re letting them inside your head. You’re opening a window to a part of your soul that feels really raw. But when you do let them in – doesn’t matter if you know them all too well, or how you feel about them – then it’s a great feeling. They see how much you care, and you don’t really need to finish the sentence. They get why you like them so much.
That band for me is the National. If I were going to delve into each song that I have personal connections and memories associated with, I’d write a novel. This is a blog post, so I will spare most detail. But, maybe that novel will come eventually.
I will admit that I was hesitant to write this post because of how connected I am. But I want to share some of the reasons as to why I love them. “Make the private public” as my writing teacher used to say. So I’ll open the window a little bit.
Seeing them live I ebulliently exuded my excitement. I was happy and enthusiastic, which isn’t really the style of the bands’ songs. But I was like that because of the simple fact that I was seeing them live. The emotions don’t match with the mood of the music, but for me it made sense.
The great thing about this band is that they aren’t afraid to really look at emotion and the range in which we react to different things.
I’m “emotional” and they’re “emotional.” They get it.
They started off their set with Don’t Swallow The Cap, a song that I had recently started to really listen to a lot. There’s an element to the song that’s sort of scary because of some of the lyrics. There’s urgency in the soft way “don’t swallow the cap” is sung. Beautiful way to start the set, though.
After that was Bloodbuzz Ohio. Bloodbuzz Ohio was the first song I had ever heard by the National. To tell you the truth, I didn’t like it right off the bat when I first heard it. They were mellow and moody, and I just wasn’t feeling it.
But I liked the way some lyrics stood out to me. “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees” had such interesting imagery.
I became endeared to the song the more I listened to it. It started to feel rich, a song that I pulled out for gray days and moments where I was feeling drained. It made me feel like I wasn’t so alone in my intensity of feeling things.
This was freshman year of college.
By second semester, I found another one of their songs, Sorrow, through, embarrassingly, a fan fiction I had read about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson based off of the show Sherlock. And no, I don’t normally read fan fiction. And no, it was not erotic. It was a very touching piece about John taking care of Sherlock who had a terminal illness. It was called “Alone on the Water,” a lyric from Sorrow.
Another nerdy reason for liking one of their songs – Exile Vilify is an easter egg in Portal 2. I’m pretty sure I stayed in that test chamber a good ten minutes just listening to the song in the game.
I became obsessed with Sorrow, even if it was slightly inspired by the fact it was loosely associated with my favorite television show. I really did enjoy the band, though, so I looked up a couple of their other songs from High Violet.
Terrible Love. Hmm, not bad.
England was it.
The swelling, the rising vocals. London.
I immediately downloaded it from iTunes and sent the YouTube link to my sister. She said she really liked the end of the song too.
I would listen to it as snow was falling at school, at night, walking around campus. I thought of how I was going to one day go back to London. I had so much hope while listening to the song. (I found out later that it wasn’t really about London, though, but the feeling still remains).
During the concert, they played England and went straight into Graceless. Both of those songs are my favorite songs from their respective albums. It’s a coincidence, but the moment spoke to me. And by that, I mean that I punched the air and smiled.
After I found England, I got the rest of High Violet and it became an album I could listen to anywhere, anytime, but only with a purpose. Arbitrarily listening to the National doesn’t feel right. There’s always a reason when I put them on, be it a whole album or a specific song.
There was a time this past spring where I was listening to them every day and it was becoming too much. I couldn’t stop listening to them, but I realized that they’re a band where you can’t always listen to them. You need to let the songs sink in.
Terrible Love became my next song of choice. I remember being on the train ride home for spring break during freshman year, and I couldn’t fall asleep. I was agitated and anxious and just wanted to sleep. I was in Cleveland and there was a large building across from where the train had stopped. The lights were still on – it looked like the ground floor was a dance hall of some sort. I put on Terrible Love and imagined myself dancing in the room, what it would be like to look out and watch the trains go by.
I started to close my eyes and I felt safe and calm.
“It takes an ocean not to break… it takes an ocean not to break…”
The repetition was a lullaby and I could feel myself start to relax.
A few more songs in the album played and I effectively fell asleep until Walk Off.
They played Terrible Love in their set, and I had been waiting for it.
It can be interpreted that the song isn’t really about a “terrible” love, it’s more about the fear people feel about love. Birdy does a really good cover of it.
There are these little hidden nuisances to some of their songs, but others are what they seem.
“This song doesn’t have any clever little metaphors. This is just about me missing my wife,” Matt Berninger said.
Then they played “I Need My Girl” from the new album.
They played a lot of songs from Boxer, High Violet, and Trouble Will Find Me, with some songs from their older stuff that I don’t know as well. I guess I can’t claim hipsterdom with this band.
Until this past spring, I had only really listened to Boxer twice through, and hadn’t really caught onto what all of the hype was about. I enjoyed it, but really only invested myself in Fake Empire and Start a War. Before the concert I listened to the album again and… I really liked Mistaken for Strangers. I mean, I really liked it – I felt like I was listening to it for the first time. And then the rest of the songs played and I felt like I was listening to the album new, and I loved it. That’s also a really cool thing about the band – you can keep listening and keep listening and new things will pop up in your mind.
I filmed when they performed Mistaken for Strangers as an experiment – I wanted to see what the quality of the video would be like. I also was indulging the nerd in me and wanted to feel like I was one of those videographers who filmed Queen in 1981 or Bruce Springsteen during the Born to Run 1975 tour.
Throughout the show they were funny, and that’s another why this band is so good. They have this humorous undercurrent and satirical edge. Even when Annie Erin Clark, otherwise known as St. Vincent, came on stage to sing This Is The Last Time, they were poking fun at her hugging and saying that she had to then “hug everyone.”
Even when they played Sorrow, they joked how “we’ve played this song a lot,” referring to their six-hour long set at MoMA PS1 where they played Sorrow over… and over… and over again.
I can’t imagine if that was someone’s first experience of the band.
I will admittedly sound preachy at this part: If you haven’t really listened to the National, you’d likely think that all of their songs sound similar. Surface level maybe, but take a deeper listen and you’ll find that their range is amazing. A great example of this is Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, specifically with the higher vocals.
I wasn’t thinking about that when they played that live, though. I was thinking about something else.
I was in church choir for most of my childhood, and have some very dear friends from it. During high school, our choir would sing at different churches and road trip to different places during spring break. My freshman year was New York City (I got sick during the intermission of Curtains), I didn’t go my sophomore year but they went to New Orleans, my junior year was Philadelphia (I saw the Liberty Bell and explored a mall), and my senior year was Toronto (I have a picture with the Stanley Cup and saw Niagara Falls for the fourth time).
I’m still sort of figuring out my own views on spirituality and religion, but I loved those trips. I always felt like we were doing a good deed in the true sense of doing good deeds – we were making music for people. They’d come up and thank us after the show. We had host families and stayed with them overnight, getting to know a variety of people.
My favorite part of each concert was whenever we sang a cappella. Just singing, no accompaniment. We just were connected through voice.
Since leaving high school, I haven’t sung at all because I really can’t sing. I mean it, I suck. I don’t really miss singing in choir, but not in a cold way. It just feels like it was a full experience that lasted exactly as long as it should have gone. It was a great chapter of my life.
But when the National came out after the encore, I remembered. I remembered that feeling.
They played Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks unplugged. It was a trumpet, a guitar, and the band singing. Or, rather, the band conducting the audience. The whole Barclays Center was singing together. We became a choir, if just for three minutes. We all joined singing and people were swaying.
Then they left the stage and the crowd left the arena. But that feeling didn’t leave, not immediately. People left and were smiling and quiet. Some not saying anything.
Because you don’t really need to say anything.
My photostream of the concert:
Video I did of Mistaken for Strangers:
Facebook link of the photo they chose from my instagram page: