Las Vegas is notorious for lousy audience turnouts, so it was nice to see a full house for the National, the moody Ohio-by-way-of-Brooklyn combo. You wouldn’t think anthems of loneliness interspersed with moments of self-aggrandizing would go over well in Vegas but … wait, of course they would.
Everyone in the band dressed in all-black like goths or chamber musicians or, as in this case, a little of both. Lead singer Matt Berninger possesses one of the greatest crooning rock baritones since Nick Cave, but showed an unexpected Sin City showman flair. This included, chatter with the bandmates, a false start, a story about losing his blanket in Circus Circus as a child and winning a few grand at the tables while in town for a design convention. A gripe about Ohio Senator Rob Portman as a “piece of crap” wasn’t off limits either. Piece of crap or not, he did get a swooning version of “Bloodbuzz, Ohio” dedicated to him.
The nearly two-hour set allowed the band’s musicianship and sprawling, soaring sound plenty of room for display, but it also revealed just how many National songs are the same tempo and key—although the encore’s double-punch of a driving “Mr. November” and the spiky “Terrible Love” was an exception. One cannot help but contemplate the other songs they could render morbid: “Whole Lotta Love” as a ballad of bottomless emotional need, “I Wanna Be Sedated” as a tragic anthem of cynicism and addiction, a version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” where no one claps.
Still, there’s something uplifting in the National’s darkness, an anthemic ring to their songs that makes hitting bottom sound like the prelude to liftoff. It’s no wonder so many people in Las Vegas find that notion appealing.
Photos by Erik Kabik Photography/erikkabik.com