It was Sasquatch 2008, my first time in Washington State and the second large music festival I had attended since Bonnaroo 2006. We were waiting for The National to take the main stage, framed by the majestic views of the Columbia River that so defines that particular amphitheater, and we had been waiting for quite some time when Rainn Wilson delivered the news: the band’s bus had broken down somewhere on the road down from Vancouver—and, in so doing, broken my spirit and stomped on my dreams. They would not be making that set, we learned with heavy hearts; instead, they would be playing a smaller stage later in the day, and therefore removed from the splendor of the Gorge. One would think, then, that the band they had selected to fill in for The National would be blessed to have the opportunity to play before such a crowd, fortune smiling upon their bearded faces, but I would disagree. Nothing was going to sate this audience save those two sets of brothers and Matt Berninger’s voice, which rolls all the suffering of the world into one erotic baritone as he sings his poignant, though sometimes nonsensical, lyrics. Not even Fleet Foxes, who admittedly put on an amazing show.
The National’s fans are as hard-core as they come, and for good reason. Since Boxer, the band’s fourth album and masterpiece that launched them into the stratosphere of indie stardom, I can’t remember a record that affected me so deeply, and for so long. So there was a lot riding on High Violet. Namely, Brooklyn’s crown of indie royalty, especially since the borough’s aesthetic has since been shaped by experimental newcomers like Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer, TV on the Radio, and Dirty Projectors. Take lyrics crooned by Magnetic Fields in an almost ecstatically in-denial Stephin Merritt (“I don’t want to get over you”) throughout the eponymous track off of 69 Love Songs, and then compare that to Berninger’s abysmally lachrymose rendition of the same in “Sorrow.” We never said it was going to be uplifting. But melancholy is what this band does best, and I would hop on their train to Depressionville in a heartbeat. Happily. And I’ll be doing exactly that tonight at the Fox.
Who: The National
What: High Violet
Where: Brooklyn, NY
Why: “Don’t leave my half a heart alone / On the water / Cover me in rag and bones, sympathy / Cause I don’t wanna get over you”
How: Beggars Banquet Records