Concerts have a way of bringing people together. We all have personal struggles, yet concerts have always been a way for me to forget mine and enjoy a night. Being in an amphitheater, surrounded by 5,000 people; it doesn’t matter if I just failed a test or had a spat with a parent. I’m going to enjoy the show and dance with the person next to me, regardless of if I know you or not.
The National is one of my favorite bands. Their songs speak to me on a personal level. I deeply relate to their lyrics that speak of depression, anxiety, and not fitting in. I recently saw them perform at the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre in San Diego, making it the third time I’ve seen the indie-rock band from Cincinnati. The venue is in the middle of SDSU’s campus. College students wander around the many restaurants and bars surrounding the school.
Eager anticipation overtakes me as the opening act, Daughter, performs. There is nothing better than seeing your favorite music being performed with people you love. My mom and I are sitting in the third row. She is almost as big of a fan as me. It is fitting to go to the show together as she was the first person to introduce me to The National years ago.
Earlier this year, The National released their 7th studio album Sleep Well Beast. Their new album is more experimental than their older stuff, but still has a classic National feel. Seeing them perform is a one of a kind experience. Despite their melancholic sound, the 5 band members know how to rock out and put on a hell of a show. Lead singer Matt Berninger ventures into the crowd during “Mr. November”. He often reaches into the crowd and grabs peoples drinks. He chugs half, then showers the concertgoers with the other half.
For certain songs, guitarist Bryce Dessner plays with 2 guitars; 1 around his neck and 1 in his hands. He bangs the hand-held on the ground creating an ominous feedback that echoes throughout the theater. Band member improvise and elongate songs, making 3-minute songs last 7 or 8.
Prior to playing “Fake Empire”, Berninger says that some song’s meanings have slightly changed over the years. “This is one that has,” he says. “Things seem a little less fake now.”
Berninger told a story about a conversation he had with his dad earlier that day. His dad said, “Matt slow down.” “I’m trying to dad, I have to be in San Diego in 2 hours.” His dad then repeated, “Matt slow down.” Berninger tells the audience, “I heard him that time.” I love when musicians are honest with their fans and show that they are people too. Simple stories like these create an intimate connection between the musicians and the crowd.
With close to 20 years’ worth of music, The National has plenty of material to choose from. You’ll never hear them play the same setlist twice. They played “Start a War” for the first time since 2014, numerous songs from Sleep Well Beast, classics such as “Apartment Story” and “Terrible Love”, and some lesser known songs like “Wasp Nest”. They are on stage for a solid 2 hours, playing over 20 songs.
During the show, I remember looking up at the night sky and taking it all in. I had had a bit of a rough week, and it seemed like all the pressures of the world were coming down on me. For a moment, just a moment, I forgot about all of them. Listening to music doesn’t erase my problems. It doesn’t put a roof over my head or buy the groceries. It does, however, make life tolerable. It brings people together and allows them to dance. I’ll always cherish that night in San Diego, with my mom and 5,000 other friends, listening to some of my favorite music in the world.