The National are a happy island of quality, even live

The National are a happy island of quality, even live

We are at the Carroponte of Sesto San Giovanni, in the last stages of an agonizing spring that seems intent on ending as it began: grumpy and wet from the rain. A furious downpour envelops Milan, depriving it of the twilight that on the best evenings is the backdrop to the iconic steel stage on Via Granelli. Two years separate us from The National's last Italian concert in Italy, when they headlined the first edition of La Prima Estate in Lido di Camaiore. From that 2022 to today, however, the Cincinnati combo has taken a couple of important steps and brings with it a new baggage, so full that the zips seem ready to explode at any moment.

What The National have done in 2023 is remarkable. Not only did they release “First Two Pages of Frankenstein”, a good album capable of bringing them back to the surface after the long four-year hiatus – with a pandemic in between extending the duration – confirming their status as “a band that doesn't make a single mistake”, but in the same calendar year they also managed to publish “Laugh Track”, an even more interesting work. Live, the three songs taken from this latest release are among the most exciting and intense moments. Incredible, right? Considering how many and what creative peaks their discography can boast in twenty-five years of career, managing to make “Smoke Detector”, the last track of the tenth album, a highlight, well, it is at least an indication of great solidity.

In his usual elegant suit Matt Berninger is irrepressible, perhaps even more so than can be remembered from the only other two Italian appearances of the last ten years. In “Demons”, “Abel”, “Alien” and in the usual heartbreaking “Mr November” his madness and performative flair are at an all-time high and place him in a league of his own, where perhaps Tom is there to keep him company Smith from Editors and a couple of other big shots. We are talking about a category of frontmen who we would watch being on stage even without any sound reproduced by the system, who we would listen to in a live rehearsal even without the support of images, but who every evening offer a slightly different performance from the previous one, unique.

Like a gas, Matt takes up all the space available. On stage, in the audience, among his bandmates, even on the back of that poor devil of a roadie who they saddled with the unfortunate task of managing the microphone cable. He takes it out on Donald Trump, then on anti-abortionists, and again on Trump, to whom he directs scorching words. But they are only the uncontrolled flames of a fire that Matt fuels on stage. And he spreads, he devours everything, perhaps also to take revenge for the incessant flood that drowned the city in the hours preceding the show.

Brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner and brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf meanwhile do the rest, and that “rest” is anything but negligible. They play masterfully and with great vitality, also trying to awaken an audience not exactly up to the show. Whether due to the weather or the typical melancholy of Sunday evening, the Carroponte audience does not stand out for its energy and it is a point that cannot go unnoticed, given that the Italian public always has to measure itself against itself and its own fame. . It takes an encore to revive, until the liturgical “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” which transforms the Carroponte into a large choir directed by maestro Matt Berninger.

Having reached their tenth album in almost a quarter of a century of their career and placing themselves in the impalpable indie world, the American band has long since crossed the boundary considered socially acceptable to still be on the lips of fans of the genre – which isn't a genre after all. “But The National again?”, “They ended after Trouble Will Find Me”, and so on. This is the repertoire that those who are always on the hunt for the new band who don't know anyone yet have to endure. But anyone with good taste and intellectual honesty, having discarded the battered mask of someone who cannot accept the longevity of a band that is both alternative and baroque at the same time, should necessarily admit it: The National are a happy island of quality, off the coast of vast ocean of indie rock. Tens, hundreds, thousands of kilometers away from them is full of archipelagos, which resemble and influence each other, leveling themselves out, but not them. Stoic, in the midst of the currents they remain, uncontaminated.


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