Show Review: The National at Spreckels Theatre, San Diego 5/23/10
“This place is beautiful” said Matt Berninger, right after his band sauntered through Boxer (2007) favorite “Start a War,” and he was right. Spreckels Theatre has always been one of San Diego’s primary classical establishments; in fact, the baroque embellishments and marble statues give it a flat-out regal feel — which is not exactly the type of ambiance rock bands are equipped to embrace, but The National’s melancholy, yuppie-blind stigma really brings out the white-collarness of it all. Something about Berninger’s jittery, nerve-addled pacing (no doubt enabled by the multiple glasses of champagne he was swigging) is supernaturally affecting, as if he’s imbuing the same anxiety attack ruptures that went into the writing of these songs into the live performance — and it coalesced beautifully with the silvery, business-casual atmosphere.
Along with some rampaging choices off their excellent new LP, High Violet, the band cranked out 2007 obscure-cuts (“Apartment Story” and “Squalor Victoria”) and some old-school fan favorites like “Abel” — and, of course, “Mr. November.” But oddly, my highlight ended up being “Runaway,” the soft, bittersweet track off of the new record. It features Matt at his most exposed, and naturally, his most genuine. Rarely does a love song of such magnitude open with the disarming couplet, “There’s no saving anything, now we’re swallowing the shine of the sun” — chills were sent down the collective spine of the audience.
A lot has been made of The National’s gentle accent into rock n’ roll ubiquity, and their ability to be an “important” band along with being a “great” one. If their set convinced me of anything, it’s that the band has certainly learned how to leave a sold-out theater, in all of its diversity, absolutely enthralled. The guy in front of me was decked out in baggy jeans and what looked like an Affliction shirt — pretty much the exact opposite uniform of the indie landscape — and the guy behind me works the register at the most respected record store in the San Diego area; polar opposites in appearance, but both of them had seats center-orchestra and both seemed to know all the words to all the songs. The National is universal, and that’s the stuff of something truly seminal.