The National Bring Their Emotive New Album ‘I Am Easy to Find’ to the iHeartRadio Stage
The National took the stage Friday night at the iHeartRadio Theater in New York for an intimate performance in promotion of their latest album “I Am Easy To Find.” The album was released in tandem with a short film by director Mike Mills, and while the movie adeptly fits the new songs to poignant visual moments, it clips them for the sake of time, whereas a proper live performance allows the songs to truly shine. The small room was packed, with fans and industry as the band poured out selections from their boldly adventurous new record, along with a few old favorites, to a warm, enthusiastic welcome.
The set started appropriately with the opening track of the new album, “You Had Your Soul With You,” which functioned to instill a certain narrative element in the performance, in line with the accompanying film. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from 2010’s “High Violet” generated an expectedly excited response, and came as an invigorating reminder of how lasting a force the National has been. Next came “Light Years,” which, although the concluding track of the latest album, could scarcely have proven a more effective transitional opener. A slow, reflective number that very much encapsulates the feeling of the accompanying film, it drew the audience instantly in, and established a mood that persisted throughout the performance. This show found the National in a freely expanded form, with the aid of two female singers, Kate Stables and Mina Tindle center stage who were absolutely essential, as well as an expanded entourage of musicians who chimed in on horns at pivotal moments, allowing the music to take on a whole new grandeur.
Next came “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” from 2017’s “Sleep Well Beast,” an energetic outpouring that found singer Matt Berninger erupting into full screams, and putting on almost Ian Curtis-style theatrics to much excited enthusiasm from the crowd. Then, it was back to the new songs, with an emotive performance of “Oblivions” that showed a new vulnerability in Berninger’s voice, seamlessly echoed by the backing singers. The chorus lines of “still got my fear” and “you won’t walk away, won’t you?” delivered over the plaintive soundscape had a palpable chilling effect. The band elegantly shuttling between moods, swiftly moving on tho “Rylan,” one of the more upbeat numbers from the new album. A portion with strings was a highlight, and the care that the band took to reproduce all the niceties of the recorded material was truly admirable.
The performance approached almost a seance with the meditative musings of “Where Is Her Head,” on which Stables and Tindle claimed the spotlight to captivating ends. Berninger peppers his performances with offhand humorous comments that make the audience feel welcome and engaged, and one of these moments came in his introduction to “Hey Rosie,” which he described as a song his wife wrote which he originally mistook as written for him, before affably reckoning, “This is for her and whoever the hell she wrote this about.” This particularly lush tune was something of a climax in an already emotionally charged performance — or so it seemed until the next tune, “Quiet Light” surpassed even that. The National’s latest al]um is a modest, elegant work that forgoes needless filigree for raw emotion, and this song particularly encapsulated that. Likely the most musically expressive new song, it built to an intense end on droning, fading strings that left the audience in awe.
“The Pull Of You” emerged neatly out of the mist left by the preceding song, in an example of some top form, strategic setlisting. The conversational stylings of the song, with lyrics that fall somewhere between the cadences of speaking and singing, found ready acceptance in the close setting, and ushered the loudest surge of applause so far. Finally came the inevitable throwback moment with “Fake Empire” from 2007’s “Boxer.” Berninger introduced it as “about a trip to Disneyland I took as a child,” to much laughter, and the old favorite brought the show to a triumphant, sentimental end.
There are certain bands whose live performances are even more memorable as their recorded output, and impressive as the National’s latest album may be, they are most definitely a case in point. The new songs assume new dimensions and take on new life in the live setting, with minute details painstakingly recreated, and presented with a camaraderie that makes for an especially memorable experience. Long term fans and newcomers alike will be in for a treat in catching the band on tour.
The National performed May 17 at the iHeartRadio Theater in New York City.