Friday, December 09, 2011

The National & Neko Case @ the Air Canada Centre (live review)

The National just continue to march into bigger and bigger venues in Toronto.  On Thursday night it was the Air Canada Centre, albeit in 'theatre mode'.

In a nearly Spinal Tap moment, the band were shown making their way from the dressing room on the big screen.  Once they finally managed the trek the crowd erupted, erasing any doubt that The National could make even a hockey arena seem intimate.

In reality, their performance differed very little from the two Massey Hall shows they did last year (Matt Berninger did his customary trip deep into the audience on "Terrible Love" and escorted people onto the floor before "Sorrow").  The band's sound seems to effortlessly expand to fill the space they are in.

Once again the set drew heavily upon last year's High Violet and 2007's masterpiece Boxer.  The band eased into the performance with the one-two combination of "Runaway" and "Your Ghost".  At it's zenith, "Ohio Bloodbuzz" created an atmosphere of incredible tension.  "Afraid of Everyone", "Conversation 16", and "England" from their latest were also included.

It was the Boxer tracks that drew the most enthusiastic reaction.  The audience sang along, quite loudly, with every word of "Fake Empire" and "Slow Show".  While not as interactive, "Apartment Story", "Mistaken For Strangers", and "Squalor Victoria" were met no less warmly.

It's unfortunate with time constraints that it's Alligator that seems to get the short shrift, with "Baby, We'll Be Fine", the throat-stripping "Abel", and encore staple "Mr. November" holding down the fort.  "Son" from the band's self-titled debut was the lone older number to get aired out.  I for one mourn the lose of "Secret Meeting" and "Daughters of the Soho Riots".

Owen Pallett delighted the audience by hopping onto the stage to play violin with the band for several songs, including the new song "I Need My Girl".

The most impressive moment of the night came, appropriately, on the final song of the encore.  Eschewing microphones, The National lead the audience in a rendition of "Vanderlylle Crybaby".  The result was chillingly beautiful.

Setting the stage was Neko Case.  She looked at ease as she strolled onto stage decked out in sneakers, jeans, and a hoodie.  She ran through favorites like "People Got A Lotta Nerve", "Star Witness", and "Margaret Vs. Pauline" while sprinkling in a few choice cuts from her upcoming record.

Case's banter was hard to distinguish for anyone not sitting on the floor thanks to the acoustics in the joint.  It didn't matter when she sang however, as her voice is powerful enough to force people to take notice.

Things kicked off prior to the 7:15pm stated start time with Wye Oak.  With only a handful of people in the stands the sound reverberated badly throughout the set, making it next to impossible to make anything out clearly.

When this concert was announced it seemed like the ACC was a poor choice.  I envisioned poor acoustics and thought it was a widely ambitious space to fill.  In the end, The National's ability to not just overcome the environment but thrive in it, just help reinforce that this may be the best band in the world today.

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