The National @ BAM, Brooklyn 2.22.08

Usually before I go to a concert I like to get extra familiar with the music I’m about to see performed. I’ll read a bit about the band, listen to their albums a few times, and prepare for what I’m going to hear. Most of the time that concert is the culmination, I’ll hear the songs in a live setting, hopefully they’ll be really good, and then I’ll give the band a break for a few days or weeks. But sometimes, when the show is really good, it makes me want to delve even deeper in the studio recordings immediately.

I saw The National play the Brooklyn Academy of Music last Friday, and come Saturday morning I cued up their last two albums, Boxer and Alligator, and hit shuffle. That’s my rather long-winded way of saying the show was good. Really, really good.

Read on for the full review and set list.

The National first came on my radar last year right around the time the sold out five nights at the Bowery Ballroom, I heard good things, and was impressed with the drawing power so I decided to check it out. Boxer hadn’t been released yet so I listened to the critically lauded Alligator, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t get it. Singer Matt Berninger had a pretty great voice, deep and haunting, but the songs themselves I found rather boring. But then Boxer was released and I was converted.

Maybe I was in the right mood when I first put it on, maybe the songs on Boxer are more immediate, but from the opening notes of “Fake Empire” I was convinced. On Friday they opened with “Start A War,” but played nearly everything off Boxer as well as a number of other standout older songs. The Opera House at BAM was the perfect venue for The National. The excellent acoustics suited Matt’s voice just fine, and, despite guitarist Bryce Dessner’s recent back injury, the band was tight. The Opera House also gave them a natural setting to add horns, woodwinds, strings and a piano into the mix, sometimes having as many as 15 musicians on the stage. Sufjan Steven’s danced his fingers across the ivories on Boxer track “Ada,” and hearing the trumpet kick in and carry the end of Fake Empire was fantastic.

I like a small club show as much as the next guy, but being able to sit back and enjoy the music was the best way to experience The National. Still, despite the more stately vibe of most of the show, Matt was able to get the whole crowd on its feet for the second half of “Mr. November” as left the stage and moved into the front row, and we staid standing throughout the rest of a beautiful show.

A live recording of the show can be found at NYC Taper’s site (a great source for live recordings), the setlist is below:

Start A War
Baby We’ll Be Fine
Slow Show
Secret Meeting
Mistaken For Strangers
Squalor Victoria
Wasp’s Nest
Racing Like A Pro
Ada **
Apartment Story
[new song – no title given]
Fake Empire
City Middle
Mr. November
About Today

**Sufjan Stevens on piano

Update: photos were removed from the post at the photographer’s request — sorry ’bout that. We’ll be a little more diligent about requesting the proper permission in the future.