While it's hard to pinpoint what, exactly, it was about the National's Monday night Fillmore show that was so immediately captivating, Matt Berninger's deep baritone vocals -- which fit somewhere between Joy Division's Ian Curtis and Tindersicks' Stuart Staples -- and the band's strong handle on dynamics were a big part of it. There's just something visceral about it all that hits you at gut level.
The outfit took the stage as Neil Young's "On the Beach" played over the house system and kicked things off simply on "Start a War," with Berninger singing over dual guitar parts by twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner. Bryan Devendorf then began steadily thumping on the bass drum, and over the next few minutes, the song built slowly, peaked, then dissolved back into where it began.
While it's those builds of intensity where the National shine, especially on songs like "Slow Show," the five-piece and its two horn players also injected steady currents of energy into cuts like "Mistaken for Strangers" and "Bloodbuzz Ohio." On "Squalor Victoria," the band pretty much exploded, with Berninger belting out words over distorted guitars, trumpet and trombone, and the players attacked "Afraid of Everyone" with similar fervor.