It was 5:00 PM and the doors for The National’s show were set to open in an hour and a half. A small line had already formed in front of the venue as I approached, but something about the scene felt off. The shiny Metropolis marquee that has overlooked Saint-Catherine street since the 1930s strangely blended into the dark sky. The venue had lost power. The fans who gathered there early grew agitated as it was uncertain if the show would still go on. Then the magic of The National revealed itself. Someone in the line started playing “Slow Show” on their smartphone, and right when the song’s chorus started, the lights blasted back on. No one will ever know for certain if that song was responsible for bringing the lights back to downtown Montreal, but The National proved later that night that they can energize thousands of people with a single note.
After a charming folky set from This is the Kit (accompanied by Aaron Dessner), The National opened with Alligator standout “Karen” before delving into songs off this year’s excellent Sleep Well Beast. Playing the second of two sold-out nights in Montreal, the band appeared to be genuinely enjoying themselves on stage. Lead vocalist Matt Berninger has mentioned that he doesn’t necessarily have fun every night that they play, but the crowd was adoring from the moment the lights went down and he seemed especially thrilled (perhaps leading to him generously giving a bottle of wine to a fan in the front).
Berninger was fascinated by his own outfit throughout the first half of the concert as he commented on how his waistcoat made him look like a cotton candy salesman and later apologized for his replacement brown belt not matching the rest of his outfit (he left his main belt at airport security in Washington, D.C.). The band seemed especially invigorated playing newer songs from Sleep Well Beast. “Day I Die” and “Turtleneck” are among the most energetic songs The National has ever released and took on explosive new forms when played live, with Berninger thrashing his mic stand and the Dessner twins taking full advantage of being able to shred on a National song.
“Apartment Story” was a highlight of the main set and was given new life played in a different guitar arrangement. The band spoke of their love for Montreal and gave a shout out to former Arcade Fire violinist Marika Shaw, but noted that some of their good friends from the city were overseas, as Arcade Fire are currently on a tour of South America. On previous tours The National was more hesitant to reach deep into their back catalog, but several songs from their earlier days made it into the setlist, including “Wasp Nest”, which Aaron Dessner noted is the “only National song my mom likes”. The crowd seemingly knew every word of Berninger’s lyrics, but the band threw the audience a curveball by beginning the encore with the rarely played unreleased song “Rylan”.
Matt Berninger became a hurricane on the stage as he knocked over countless microphone stands, spilled more wine than he drank, and almost toppled over the drum set – all to the amusement of multi-instrumentalist Bryce Dessner. After raucous renditions of “Terrible Love” and “Mr. November” (with Berninger in the crowd), the night came to an end with an acapella rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”. The National crowded near the front of the stage for the closer, and the passion from the audience was candid and authentic as they belted out every word to the song with arms outstretched to the band. Over the last twenty years The National have solidified their stage show, and tonight they proved again why they are one of the best bands touring today.