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I Saw The National Live In Colorado and It Changed My Life

This past Monday on September 12 2022, I had the fortunate experience of seeing the leaders of dad indie-crisis inducing-sad rock, The National, perform at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. Now I want to start this review by saying I am completely and utterly biased when it comes to The National which means I have nothing bad to say about them ever. I am a National lover and forever will be. So with that being said, I saw The National live and my life has been forever altered because of it.

I’ve been a long time fan of the National but have never gotten a chance to see them. They never come to Arizona and after so many years of waiting, my dad (who is also a lifetime fan) and I decided to go to them. We figured if we were gonna see them, we were gonna go to a venue that’s known for show stopping shows and Red Rocks was the closest one.

My dad and I got to the Ampitheatre early Monday night to grab some merch and sit down before the wonderful and extremely talented opener, Lucy Dacus, came out. I don’t know much of her music besides her hits and her collaboration album “Boy Genius” with Phoebe Bridgers and Julian Baker but that didn’t stop me or my middle aged father from enjoying Lucy Dacus. Even if you don’t know or particularly relate to her music you can still find something to take home with a performance like this. Dacus absolutely shreds on the guitar and you can’t help but admire her floaty and feminie vocals. She’s sweet when the song calls for it but she can scream and belt with the big leagues. She’s an extremely witty lyricist and had a killer cover of “Dancing in the Dark '' by Bruce Sringsteen which captured the older audience members attention. I really enjoyed her band and the energy they all had between them. It’s fun to see a natural chemistry between a singer and their band and you could tell that all participants on stage loved being there. Dacus ended her set with “Night Shift” which is arguably her most popular song and rightfully so. There was a certain catharsis hearing her and the Dacus fans in the crowd scream out those lyrics to the Colorado sky.

Dacus left the stage and the anticipation for the main event began. Around 8:45PM a video started playing on the main screen with live footage from the green room. Everyone in the crowd lost it and we got to see them leave the green room and come out on stage in real time. I love The National because they’re just middle aged dudes with zero social skills. They came out, picked up their instruments, and started playing. No introduction and no hellos, just straight to the music. Bryan Devendorf, the drummer, hit off the opening beats on his sticks while Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner, the twin brother guitarists for the band, plucked out the first notes to the first song of the night, “Don’t Swallow the Cap.” Matt Berninger, the lead singer, dove right in with an umph unknown to most performers. He sang the song as if he was reliving every emotion that created it in the first place. His voice has this constant edge of being near tears which creates an extremely emotional performance. As he sang some of my favorite lyrics of all time “I have only two emotions, careful fear and dead devotion,” he took the opportunity to scream incoherently into the microphone while pulling on his hair and contorting his body until he was cradled in his own arms. It was like performance art and I’ve never seen anything like it.

That is what makes The National so extremely special. Every single person on that stage and in that band is there because they feel this music. They don’t just create something that sounds nice instrumentally with some obscure, witty lyrics. No, they have this way of reaching so deep inside of themselves and pulling out all these raw and bloody pieces that would normally never see the light of day and then they make a song that encompases the entire human experience. Every emotion I’ve ever had and every emotion I’ll have in the future is somewhere in The National’s discography. They take the most depressing and mundane aspects of life and show them for what they are. But there’s another layer to them. Even with these depressing and mundane aspects, you can’t help but feel hopeful at the end of all of their songs. They package up all their pain and lay it out, yes, but they also never leave you feeling lost. The guitars, drums, vocals, lyrics, keys, and especially their horns, all work together to create this story arc that ends with the feeling of sunshine finally breaking through the cloudy day. And that was how this concert felt.

Their setlist consisted of some of their sadder songs like “I Should Live in Salt,” “Day I Die,” “Light Years,” and “Weird Goodbyes” (their latest single!) but in between we got little glimpses of yearning for something better like “I Need My Girl,” “Slow Show,” and “Mr. November.” Yes, I sobbed and blubbered my way through the whole show but not because I was sad. It was because I had listened to all of these songs in the lowest points of my life and made it out the other side like they promised I would. I’m pretty sure everyone in that venue could relate to that feeling. For die hard fans of The National, we put them on when we’re feeling any emotion. They’re my rainy day band, my roadtrip band, my crying in the shower band, my sleeping band, my dancing band, my walking band, my god forsaken eating band. They have been a part of every daily task for as long as I can remember and watching them play all the songs of my teenage melodrama and inglorious adulthood was something akin to therapy.

The National played a two hour set which consisted of their hits, their B-sides, some unreleased tracks, and a ridiculously good performance of “Rylan” where they brought Lucy Dacus back onstage to sing backing vocals. The whole audience was held in a trance, watching Berninger on stage, publicly fighting his own personal demons and towards the end of their set they gave us all a very special treat.

The band left the stage and came back out for their encore. They sang their newest single “Weird Goodbyes (ft. Bon Iver)” to the receptive crowd and I could tell that in a few years it’ll be considered a National “classic.” Now, the showstopper, the song that everyone was waiting for. The iconic and accidentally political (it’s a long story) “Mr. November.” It’s a common known fact that Berninger waits til the encore to pull the winning card out and play it and the winning card here is “Mr. November.” Arguably, the most popular song off their 2005 album “Alligator,” “Mr. November” talks about how nothing is the same out in the real world. We make up all these fake scenarios in the safety of our rooms, wearing our best clothes, and then leave to find that nothing is like we imagined it. There are some emotionally potent lyrics (I am not allowed to include them because they are not clean sorry lol) that rally the crowd into an explosive bomb. Berninger then takes this farther by jumping off stage and climbing into the crowd lighting said bomb on fire. He screams out these lyrics of wanting everything to be the same as it was back in his room while all his adoring fans are screaming them with him. It’s a beautiful moment and a surprising display of a crowd being respectful to a musician and his art. A rare sight in times like these.

Berninger looped back around as the Dessner twins shredded at the front of the stage and as the song came to a close he hopped back over the gate and got ready for another bout of madness. I was on the opposite side of the venue so I was a bit sad that Berninger didn’t come on my side but he pulled out his other lucky card “Terrible Love” from my favorite National album of all time “High Violet.” Unbeknownst to me and the other member on my side of the amphitheater, he was planning to jump into the crowd again and on my side this time! He got through the first chorus of the song and started walking over to us. He usually only does one crowd jump per show but we got lucky and he hopped that fence and came right up to me and my dad! I was honestly so star struck that I couldn’t do any basic human function but cry incessantly. He passed us and went up towards the top of the stadium and I got to see all the shining and adoring faces light up as they sang along with him. I was still crying as he came back down and onto the stage and finally spoke, some of the only words he said all night, “this is our last song.” You gotta love his straightforward manner.

They played one last heart wrenching song to end the night. “About Today” is a song about the dying flame of a relationship. Matt writes about watching this person go and not doing anything to stop it even if he knows he should. This is an old song from their very first EP released in 2004 called “Cherry Tree'' and I think it was the perfect way to end the night. The whole concert was filled with songs from all of their albums but they brought it back to the very beginning of their career with a sort of silent gratitude and thankfulness to the fans. You could hear the crickets chirping and the wind coming in the canyon as the crowd absorbed this last song in a silent and appreciative manner. They finished and bowed and we gave them the loudest ovation that we could muster.

So now, here I am, five days later, and still thinking about what I just experienced. If you ever get the chance to see The National, GO GO GO!! You don’t even have to like any of their music to appreciate what excellent musicians and performers they are. They are a once in a lifetime artist and, in my opinion, an extremely underrated influence of the indie rock genre. It’s one of those performances that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I know that when I’m old and decaying, I will be able to remember this concert with perfect clarity. The best show I’ve been to hands down. Thank you to all members of The National for putting it all out on the stage for us that night.

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