June 23, 2010

The National / The Antlers - Radio City Music Hall - June 16, 2010

The Antlers
The sound at Terminal 5 is hit or miss, especially in the case of opening bands. The last time I saw The Antlers, they were at T5 as one of the opening bands for Editors. On that night, let’s just say the sound wasn’t very good. But despite the bad sound there was no getting around Peter Silberman's emotionally charged vocals. Comparing Silberman’s vocals to the late Jeff Buckley's is almost a given. Both voices share that compellingly uncontrollable vibrato and both voices reach to hit high notes from above as if they were singing gospel. Their vocals feel intensely spiritual.

The first time I saw The Antlers, I avoided the CD as much as possible. Primarily because I didn't want to emotionally revisit those painful times when personal friends and family have died in hospices   This time, I checked out Siberman’s lyrics because I felt I could objectively handle the subject matter.  

My take on The Antlers album Hospice is that it’s about a young woman with terminal cancer who was traumatized as a child. Silberman describes nightmares she had since childhood, as well as the anger she felt toward the inevitable outcome of her adult situation. Silberman names the young woman Sylvia after Sylvia Plath, a confessional poet who committed suicide in 1963. Plath killed herself by sticking her head in the oven. I think Silberman treats Sylvia as if she were about to commit or was always threatening to commit suicide. Siblerman’s part in the story is either as lover and/or caretaker. I’m not sure. Of course, both what I believe to be the story and the fact that it’s a personal narrative is all conjecture. But it’s the only way I can explain Silberman’s gut wrenching vocals coming from somewhere way down deep.

On Wednesday night, both Peter Silberman's gadget tray and Darby Cicci's keyboard were adorned with white flower bouquets. The bouquets looked like they were either dogwood branches or violas; they might have been both or neither. As the lights went down, The Antlers walked on stage as Otis Redding's “Dock of the Bay” was playing. The hall was not filled for their set but the audience that was there seemed to be there specifically for The Antlers

The Antlers did six songs. That doesn’t sound like very many songs but The Antlers six songs are equal to other bands nine or ten songs. The Antlers started their set with a loud fluttering sound that sort of circled around. As it the sound dissipated, Cicci crawled in with his piano part. The Intro was to the song “Kettering.” (Since the song is also titled “Bedside Manners,” Silberman is either referring to Kettering Medical Center in Ohio or Sloan-Kettering in New York).

The second song was "Shiva."  Unlike the recording, the song started with Michael Lerner playing a heavy drum beat. Perhaps they were already on stage but it was the first time that I tuned into Sharon Van Etten doing background vocals and a brass section consisting of Jon Natchez and Tim Cronin. Etten background vocals added color to those soft moments in the song and the brass section did the same for the intense loud moments.

Before performing a new song, The Antlers did “Sylvia,” which along with “Two” is probably the most accessible songs on Hospice in terms of pop music. Under yellow lighting, the new song seemed a little more upbeat, the vocals were soulful and there were parts where Lerners playing on the snare sounded to me like gun fire.

The Antlers ended their set with “Wake,” which felt like the perfect ending for their set. The song has a triumphant marching beat at the end, with Cicci playing a sort of choral patch on his keyboard and Siblerman repeating the words “don't ever.” The music kept building until it dropped down to single pitch – end of set.

I have to say what I admired most about The Antlers set is that they made some small changes to the arrangements instead of doing the songs verbatim to their recordings; not many bands do that nowadays. The Antlers set was wonderful. I have since revisited Hospice and now appreciate it as a really great recording.

The Antlers are:
Peter Silberman  on vocals and guitar
Darby Cicci on keyboards
Michael Lerner on drums 

Additional Musicians on stage:
Tim Cronin - Trumpet
Jon Natchez - clarinet, bass clarinet,saxophone (trombone)
Sharon Van Etten -.background vocals

The Antlers -Set list :
  1. Kettering
  2. Shiva
  3. Sylvia
  4. (New Song)
  5. Two
  6. Wake 
The National
At 9:15 the lights went down and the stage's backdrop curtain was lit by pink and purple flood lights from below. The band then walked out to music I didn't recognize. Lead vocalist, Matt Berninger simply said “Hello” before the band went into the song “Mistaken For Strangers.” The National 's start seemed a little shaky. The bass and kick drum where way two loud and when the horns came in with their part the song's tempo slowed down. I listened to the song while writing this posting. The recording has the bass guitar and kick drum upfront in the mix but that doesn't mean the same sort of mix is going to work in concert. I have read comments about the first song on various sites; it seems what was a choice came off as bad sound.

Musically everything fell into place for the rest of the show except, from where I sat in the first balcony, the drums sounded weird. For lack of a better way to put it, the drums just didn't sound crisp. At points I saw that Bryan Devendorf using marching band mallets instead of regular drum sticks but I didn't note whether or not he used them for the entire show. Perhaps it's just  my preference to have drums be more cutting when hearing a band in concert. Apart from people saying the kick was too loud, the quality of the sound didn't seem to bother anyone else. (Anyone else being friends I bumped into at the show.) Matt Berringer next introduced  “Anyone's Ghost” by stating “This is a pop hit.” I think a lot of the songs on High Violet are pop hits including “Sorrow," which the band unfortunately didn't do.

“Anyone's Ghost” followed  “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” It was the first time Berringer walked into the audience.   Watching Matt Berninger, from the beginning of The National's set, my first thought was that he’s not big on movement. He holds the mic on the mic stand and doesn’t let go. It’s sort a sexy but not for a whole show. Somewhere along the line someone must have handed him a memo that said “Dude, you gotta give the audience a little more than standing there for an hour and a half.” I think he read the memo because he walked into the audience several times and toward the end of the show he really went for it by climbing up to the balcony. I'm not completely sure it was a smart move; I have more to say about walking into the audience toward the end of this posting.

Before doing “Secret Meeting,” from their CD Alligator, Matt Berninger said “This is for Johnny Black who gave us our first gig at Mercury Lounge." Toward the end of the song, guitarists Arron and Bryce Dessner sort of screamed a mystery lyric. I looked around online and no one knows what they are screaming on both the recording or in concert. Some think the words are “Don't draw an ace and fold it.” but no one really knows.

“Squalor Victoria” seemed to make the audience perk up. For the song, Scott Devendorf went back and forth between his bass and shakers and Aaron Dessner moved to piano. On certain parts of the song, flood lights were focused out into the audience. There was also a part where Matt Berninger kept screaming the title.  It was during “Squalor Victoria” that I saw the bands keyboardist for the tour Padma Newsome, switch to violin. I believe the string section consisted of two violins and a cello. I think I also saw Newsome holding a stand up bass at some point later in the show.

One of the songs on High Violet that reminds me of Pink Floyd is "Vanderlylle Crybaby" which has that “Dark Side of the Moon” feeling. For the song, St. Vincent's Annie Clark sat behind the piano. As Clark walked out Matt Berninger said “you know who that is,” but then introduced her after the song. My thoughts regarding Clark are that it was cool to see her sit behind the piano in her pretty red dress but she didn't do anything special. It would have liked to have seen her take a solo or perhaps do some lead singing with Berninger. My feeling is that if a band is going to bring another known artist on stage, that artist should at least do some sort of cameo.

When Sufjan Stevens walked on for “I'm Afraid of Everyone.” He joined Clark to do background vocals. Maybe I'm belaboring the point but I felt the same way about Stevens walk on, as I did about Clark's. (They could have sampled those background vocals – the horns eventually did the line anyway.) The National were playing Radio City – why not have the guest artists do something special?

When they were about to do the song "Little Faith," I believe it was Bryce Dessner who said it was the first song the band had written that references a venue. Berninger  jokely added “yea, it's about a bar in Hamburg called Radio City.” With both violins and horns joining in, the band played “Little Faith.” And yes, the audience applauded when Berninger sang the lyric that included “Radio City.”

Berninger and the Dressner brothers had some fun moments chatting on stage. Before doing the song “Available,” Berninger said  “There are a couple of seats right up here...I think Glenn Close just left.” The Dressner brothers then went on to sarcastically state that the next song was an old song written when Matt was really unhappy, because all The National's other songs are really happy. At the end of “Available, ” Berninger screams the lyric “why did you dress me down,” several times. When the song finally ended Berninger said “That song has such a sweet coda.”  The Dressner brothers then had a moment where they discussed  “Conversation 16” as being down right weird and teasingly said  it was a song about cannibalism. I believe Berninger joined in by saying it was a Hollywood song about trying to keep things together. During the song the string section was comprised of only a standup bass played by Newsome and someone playing cello.

“Abel” was sarcastically introduced as the band's most delicate song. The Dressner brothers both did background vocals and once again Berninger walked out into the audience. “Daughtes of the Soho Riots” came down to a lighter feel and slower tempo . “England” remained at the same sort of feel and once again Berninger walked into the audience.

“Fake Empire” started with spotlights on keyboards and horns. Right before the band came in, Newsome's keyboard part and Berninger's vocal seemed too slow down - it was weird.  I don't think it was intentional; They may have started the song a little too fast. At the end of the song the Dressner brothers thanked the audience for coming and during the song both walked to the very tip of the stage.

For The National's first encore, “Runaway,” the curtain backdrop lit up behind them with lights looking like stars. A large disco ball, which sat on stage right, reflected around the entire hall. The band eased into the song with simple piano and guitar parts. As the horns and violins joined in, the song began to build and eventually ended with Bryan Devendorf hitting the kick drum for the first two eight notes of each measure. The drum beat eventually changed which segued the band into the next song “Lemonworld.” It was the one song when the audience sang along the loudest.

Before going into the song, I think it was Bryce Dressner who said that they never did the next song the same way.  He said that on tour  they must have done 20 or so different versions of the song. Once the song started Berringer walked up along the right wall where the theater boxes are located, across the first balcony and down the left wall back to the stage. He did all this while singing “Mr. November.” The audience of course went wild. Walking up to the balcony and then down was kind of cool. But it was the forth time Berninger walked into the audience and I was a bit over it. One walk into the audience is wild, zany and fun, four felt a bit narcissistic. Besides, I have seen so many band's lead vocalists walk into the audience that it's becoming almost conventional.

The National ended the show with the song that opens up the High Violet CD . It felt like the band came full circle with it as the ending song.

Personally, I thought The National should have had a few more special moments during the body of the show. By special moments I mean – perhaps different arrangements highlighting different members of the band, maybe breaking a song down to something acoustic or even showcasing their “guest' performers. The lighting for the show was nice,but nothing special and the starlight backdrop is something I had already seen during Owen Pallette's performance at Webster Hall. (I'm now becoming jaded as well as old, what's next?)

For the most part, I enjoyed The National and so did the audience. Though at times I found them noticeably sloppy, I think as far as their music goes The National gave a good performance. Now if they could just beef up the program a little for the next time they play Radio City.

The National are:
Matt Berninger - vocals
Aaron Dessner - guitar /piano
Bryce Dessner - guitar
Bryan Devendorf - drummer
Scott Devendorf – bass / additional Keyboard

Additional Musicians

Padma Newsome – keyboards/ violin and viola
(also two additional violinists)
Kyle Resnick - trumpet
Ben Lanz - trumpet and trombone

The National's Set list
  1. Mistaken For Strangers
  2. Anyone's Ghost
  3. Bloodbuzz Ohio
  4. Brainy
  5. Secret Meeting
  6. Slow Show
  7. Squalor Victoria
  8. Vanderlylle Crybaby
  9. Afraid of Every
  10. Little Faith
  11. Available
  12. Conversation 16
  13. Apartment Story
  14. Able
  15. Daughters of Soho Riots
  16. England
  17. Fake Empire
  1. Runaway
  2. Lemonworld
  3. Mr. November
  4. Terrible Love

1 comment:

  1. you sound like a real concert snob, I've been to hundreds of shows and Berninger walking across the first balcony of Radio City Music Hall is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. You stated you sat in the first balcony, yet you weren't impressed by the lead singer walking hundreds of feet into the crowd and traversing 20 feet above the orchestra floor. Put down your pad and pencil, drink a beer, smoke a j and enjoy the show next time.