Tuesday, 24 November 2009

735 THE NATIONAL, The Broken Family Band, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Thursday 8 November 2007

Well, the Kissaway Trail impressed me enough on their Editors support slot to ensure I went to their Louisiana rearranged gig! This meant a quick trip to the National's website to see if I could pass on their clashing Anson Rooms date in favour of another, and thus it came to pass that I hit the M4 on this Thursday evening, armed with a Shepherd's Bush residency day 2 ticket for this impressive new US alt-rock band.

Parked at 1/4 to 8 and hit the venue in good time for support the Broken Family Band, who sauntered on at 8 pm sharp. They veered between slow-burn US alt-country (despite being a UK band) and discordant, often thrilling white noise, often in the same song! The deadpan vocalist had a nice line in banter - "we're supporting the National and you're not; mind you, we had dinner in the Walkabout next door and you probably didn't" - "cheer when we mention the National, it makes us a more viable support" - and my favourite, "this song is dedicated to the National, as a way of saying thank you for having us, Mr. and Mrs. National". Great! Their new single was the most conventional "pop" thing they did all set, otherwise this seemingly ordinary 4-piece were intriguing, recalling the Violent Femmes in both music and subject matter!

Stayed stage right, near the front, for the National's entrance at 9.15. After beguiling me with their previous "Alligator" CD and their current "Boxer" follow-up, my sleeper CD of this year, I was expecting an understated, perhaps detached set of their almost glacially cool marriage of moody, late night bar-room torch music, and occasional Death Cab For Cutie-esque quirky US alt-indie rock. However, from the outset they attacked their set with a hitherto unexpected venom, their resonant elements proving much more dynamic onstage. Vocalist Matt Berringer, possessor of a unique deep, rich yet clipped and understated vocal style, positively flew into the set, screaming the crescendo line of "Secret Meeting". Startling, yes, but the material handled this unexpected rough treatment well and robustly, and gained extra dimensions as a consequence. "Mistaken For Strangers" and "Looking For Astronauts" were mid-set highlights; "Fake Empire", introduced as, "dedicated to the Shepherd's Bush Empire, we've dreamed of playing this here!" featured a rousing sing-along, and brilliant first encore "Mr. November" was positively punk rock, Matt roaring the chorus like a wounded lion.

"Start A War" concluded an unexpectedly overt set of dark moody late night material given a markedly different, rockier spin. A rapturously received 1 1/2 hour performance from a band I'm glad I made the extra effort to see!

Oh and by the way, I loved guitarist Aaron's story of his mum's misadventures the previous night, having flown in from Ohio to attend this 2-night residency; "she got thrown out of the balcony last night for not having the right pass, but then I found out she was smoking drugs! My dad found out and now it's this big scandal back in Ohio!"

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