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The National, The Cloud Room Reviewed

| March 29, 2006 | 0 Comments

The National, The Cloud Room
Double Door, Chicago
Friday, March 24, 2006

Traipsing into town beneath an underdog’s flag, The National arrived at the Double Door having moved laterally since September. Though the press clippings piled on at year’s end, The National’s commercial momentum took a hit when Clap Your Hands opened for them last fall.

Operating outside New York’s ceaseless post-something enclave of derivative bands, it has taken considerable time for last year’s Alligator (Beggars) to gain traction with anyone but critics. Frontman Matt Berninger predicted their holding pattern on “Lit Up,” which opened Friday’s set: “Everything surrounds you and it doesn’t fade/Nothing like this sound I make/that only lasts the season/And only heard by bedroom kids who buy it for that reason.” While stages have grown incrementally over nine months for them in Chicago (Subterranean to Schubas to Double Door), they’ve also seen Clap Your Hands rocket past them with a headlining gig at Metro next week.

If they were ever tempted to change horses, however, they didn’t show it Friday. Still pushing the majority of Alligator, The National have expanded a number of the tracks to make them more challenging and perhaps more obtuse. Berninger remains a curiosity onstage — squeezing the microphone to death while singing with eyes closed, only to retreat between verses by turning his back and pressing his hands into his face — but twin brothers/guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner have taken to prominence. Adding touches of insanity to “Lit Up,” warmth to “Secret Meeting,” and tension to “Looking For Astronauts,” they spelled Berninger confidently and almost comically as the set wore on — Berninger sing then disappear; twins step back then forward.

Though it’s inaccurate to characterize Berninger’s antics as distracting, he was most effective when crooning latter-day Nick Cave-ish numbers “Wasp Nest” and “Daughters Of The Soho Riots.” Watching him flail around during “Abel” and “Mr. November” certainly has its perks, but the aggro thing gets covered by so many bands The National could skip it entirely. “I’m on a good mixture/I don’t want to waste it,” he sang during “City Middle.” Fine for today, but what about tomorrow?

Neighbor New Yorkers The Cloud Room opened having located their inner Psychedelic Furs. While even Richard Butler has trouble with that these days (click here), “Hey Now Now” and “Blackout!” turned some of the filler from this spring’s re-released, self-titled effort into more palatable pieces with energy. Singer/guitarist J (not J Mascis, not J. Robbins, not Tommy Lee Jones in MIB, just J), who wrote their awkward press kit, is a nervous talker onstage, but managed to pull a little more depth out of “Beautiful Mess” than he can on record.

— Steve Forstneger

Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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