Photos by Anthony Bauer :: Words by Will Oliver

Throughout their impressive career trajectory, The National have found ways to pull you in, instill confidence in you that they will release new music that will very much be “The National,” while also shape-shifting and evolving every step of the way. Most will point to 2017’s Sleep Well Beast but really, think about how far they’ve come from the raw Americana found on their 2001 self-titled debut. With every new album, they find new ways to push the limits of their sound and continue their steady evolution, while simultaneously finding a way to still keep that core sound of theirs that had become unflappable.

On May 17th the band will release their eighth studio album I Am Easy To Find via 4AD. It’s interesting that the first two songs shared from the album (“You Had Your Soul With You” and “Light Years”) seem to represent a bridge to this point, with the former representing the new direction and the latter sounding more directly in their wheelhouse, leaving fans eager to find out where exactly this new LP would take them.

With the album’s release day growing nearer, the band has been giving fans their first taste of the album over the past week with special performances at slightly more intimate venues than you can typically find them playing while on tour. In addition to the performance, the shows began with the accompanying short film (making it’s US debut) for the album directed by Mike Mills and starring Alicia Vikander, followed by a short q&a about the film/album before the band hit the stage.

Last night saw the band return back to New York for a special performance at Beacon Theatre during a fittingly rainy night in the city, undeniably the hot ticket item of the week. It was a treat to get to take in the short film on the big screen, an emotional journey deftly directed by Mills whose style is a perfect pairing with the music of The National. During the q&a hosted by Julien Baker, the band and Mills discussed how the film came to be and how it even altered the way some of the songs turned out. The q&a was then opened up to the fans, with one hilariously asking them why they pretend their debut album doesn’t exist.

After a short intermission (jokingly dubbed for “drinking purposes” by Matt Berninger) the band took the stage and slowly peeled back the many layers of I Am Easy To Find. Joined by a string section as well as vocalists Mina Tindle, Kate Stables (of This Is The Kit) and James McAlister – not to mention Julien Baker for opener “You Had Your Soul With You” and “Where Is Her Head.” The band brought out the Brooklyn Youth Chorus for eight of the new songs, bringing their contributions to the album alive in a way that would be impossible to otherwise replicate. This was the most crowded live stage I’ve seen from the band to the point it was almost hard to find both Bryan and Scott Devendorf amidst all the new players who helped bring this show to life.

Like so many of The National’s best work, these are songs that slowly creep up on you, revealing their true form during the final climatic moments that hit you emotionally out of nowhere like a ton of bricks. As they hinted at during the q&a, this album showcases a strong emphasis on the female vocalists, finding plenty of moments where they shine on their own, as well as paired with the ever-familiar deep croon of Berninger. This is a new dimension to their sound that may throw off certain fans (such as some spoken word-like portions included in “The Pull Of You” and “Not in Kansas”), but as usual, the band finds a way to make these new elements very much their own.

For this writer, personal highlights from the new album included “Oblivions,” the title track “I Am Easy To Find” and “Hey Rosey” as the standouts, if not counting the already beloved cult-like fan favorite “Rylan,” which somehow sounds even more massive and triumphant than ever in its final form (the same can be said about “Light Years,” already feeling like an old friend). All of these standouts have that typical second act build from the band who certainly know how to deliver a powerful climatic finish. The album as a whole feels like a true grower and slow burn that fans may not know immediately know to feel, similarly to Arctic Monkey’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino just last year.

Following “Not in Kansas,” the encore featured a 1-2-3 punch of “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and “Fake Empire.” Something clearly shifted in the air as the crowd stood up out of their seats and the band seemed to cut a bit loose and seem at ease. I don’t fault the band for sharing so much of the album, it was great to take it in for the first time live, in this particular setting. Fans clearly wanted a few more oldies to help balance out the new material. But the band will be back in June for two nights at Prospect Park, where we will have had a chance to digest the new album and see how they dance alongside this new material.

Find a full gallery of photos taken by our photographer Anthony Bauer posted in the gallery below, along with the setlist.

The National setlist:

1. You Had Your Soul With You
2. Quiet Light
3. Roman Holiday
4. The Pull of You
5. Hey Rosey
6. Oblivions
7. I Am Easy to Find
8. Her Father in the Pool
9. So Far, So Fast
10. Dust Swirls in Strange Light
11. Rylan
12. Underwater
13. Hairpin Turns
14. Where Is Her Head
15. Light Years

Encore:

16. Not in Kansas
17. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
18. Bloodbuzz Ohio
19. Fake Empire

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[…] and gave us a few sneak peaks of the new music in the live format with a memorable performance at Beacon Theatre and a slightly more intimate one at the iHeartRadio […]




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