How do you follow up three consecutive nights of shows on the East Coast? You eat a last late meal with friends, pull an all-nighter, catch an early flight home, put in five hours of freelance work, battle jetlag, and catch another unrelated but highly anticipated gig, of course!
The National/The Broken West, Bimbo's 365 Club, June 27, 2007: Unlike many concert attendees, I not only often look forward to seeing the opening band, I sometimes hit a show expressly to catch their set. Unless the headliner makes me break out in hives, I normally stick around for the top of the bill too--hell, I paid full price for the ticket, right? This, then, was the model I was operating under for the night's gig.
One of the reasons easily fooled is a concert blog rather than an all-purpose music blog has to do with the fact that I see far more gigs than I buy--or even listen to--albums. Thus, my next statement won't mean much, but I have to say it: The Broken West's I Can't Go On, I'll Go On is currently one of my two favorite releases for 2007, and my enthusiasm has only grown since I saw the band at Cafe du Nord back in April. And as regular readers should know by now, I'm nothing if not a repeat customer!
There's always some trepidation when you go to a gig for the opener; it's impossible to know if the crowd will be at all respectful of the warm-up act or whether you'll be the lone supporter mouthing the lyrics and clapping along--not that it stops me, of course. The crowd at Bimbo's seemed lukewarm to the Broken West at first. The floor was relatively open when they made their low-key entrance at 8, and the initial bursts of applause were a bit sparse as well.
As the band hit its groove, though, the crowd response grew accordingly, much to my relief. They sounded crisper tonight, perhaps thanks to Bimbo's sound system or maybe because of their continued days on the road. Their opening slot dictated a shorter set, as expected, so they couldn't get to all the songs on the album, but they turned out a bunch of the highlights, as well as one tune from The Dutchman's Gold EP, "My Love Is True." They favored by a slight margin the more upbeat songs, such as "On the Bubble," "Down in the Valley," and "Big City," to name three.
My favorite selection, "You Can Build an Island" was the loveliest surprise, though. The album version of the song sends me somewhere above the cumulus clouds, but for this show, the band presented a different take on the tune, highlighting its low end and ultimately transforming its frothy, chiming radiance into a sultry summons. I wouldn't mind hearing that again.
My knowledge of the National is limited to a handful of songs I've heard on Internet radio, endorsements from a number of friends, and a documentary I caught a couple of years ago about their life on the road. Oh, and I think I saw their bass player/guitarist Aaron Dessner at one of the Wilco shows in London last month. I'll refrain from trotting out my usual tired excuse for missing bands when they come to my town; let's just say that I was glad to finally have a ticket in hand.
When I was growing up, one of the reasons I preferred British bands over their American counterparts had everything to do with fashion, style, and elan. Fortunately, that attitude has changed drastically over the years, but my first reaction to the National was illogically shallow: They looked so damn normal! (Thanks for humoring me.)
The music, of course, made an impression of its own and took no time to draw me in. I don't want to play Spot the Influences too much, except to say how much I liked that the band seemed to combine the sophistication of certain U.K. acts with the urgency that I more commonly associate with homegrown music. Their passion and cohesiveness were unassailable, and I love almost any band with players who switch instruments between--or even during!--songs. The final haunting track, "About Today," not only provided the perfect emotional cue to end on, it also served as a gorgeous review of the band's strengths and gifts.
This show was also a nice break in another regard. In the age of the Internet, hype is more prevalent than ever before, and it's sometimes hard to discern the flash-in-the-pan acts from the real deal. With the National, it was a relief to see a group that's paid its dues and earned a well-deserved following. Of course, no rock band would be complete without fans declaring their love or making other attempts to connect with the performers, but the singing voices around me spoke louder than all the hecklers (no matter how adoring) in the room.
» you can fall in love with every other soul you meet