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The National, Local Natives, Wye Oak

The Neptune

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Last November, we learned of Seattle Theatre Group's plan to rehabilitate the U District's

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The National Stick to a Compelling Formula, Then Shake It Up, Last Night at the Neptune

itsnationalbaby.jpg
The National, Local Natives, Wye Oak

The Neptune

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Last November, we learned of Seattle Theatre Group's plan to rehabilitate the U District's historic Neptune Theatre, turning it from a cinema into a concert venue. Since its official opening last month, we've reviewed shows at the new Neptune eleven times. Neumos, five. The Showbox: only two. Earlier this week, The Seattle Times explored the possibility that the Neptune, with its 885 capacity, aesthetically-appealing setting, and white-hot booking streak, might be putting the squeeze on other mid-size venues in town. Last night's National show (the first of two sold-out nights at $50 a pop... you can do the math) was a strong argument that yes, the Neptune is a threat-- if not to other clubs, then to the wallets of Seattleites who may find themselves spending seven nights a week in its confines.

Last night was, as they say, a stacked bill. First up was Wye Oak, the excellent duo of Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack who hail from Baltimore and released one of 2011's best albums, the electrifying Civilian, on Merge Records. Wye Oak specialize in the tension between quiet and brooding and VERY LOUD. A Wye Oak opening set isn't nearly as good as the full thing, but hopefully the room full of National fans was impressed by tour-de-force songs like "Holy Holy" and "A Prayer." Wasner does right by the guitar, while Stack specializes in one-handed drumming (the better to play ersatz bass with the other).

Judging from the screaming, Local Natives had quite a few fans in the audience. The LA-based quintet has always specialized in singing (seriously, you could cut those harmonies with a knife), and the smoothness of their vocal delivery led to mental comparisons to Hall and Oates. Or maybe it was just Taylor Rice's Hall-level mustache, impressive even from the back bar. They took the opportunity to play a few songs from their upcoming record, joking that although they agreed not to tour until they finished the album, they couldn't pass up an offer from The National. Their songs are clap-along and pleasant, but the best one in my book is still "Sun Hands," possibly because it's the only to feature minor notes.

The National are easily one of the strongest rock bands working at the moment. They dug into their impressively deep catalog (I considered myself a semi-serious listener until I didn't know half the songs) for an hour-and-a-half long set. Singer Matt Berninger displayed his distinctive baritone, the band's defining feature, while sticking to his usual themes of urban ennuie and the mysteries of human connection. A live video-feed interacted with the visuals projected behind the band-- technology! (Even cooler: the live footage of the band backstage that followed them down the corridor and onto the stage, like a custom concert film just for that audience.)

If you're not a die-hard fan, after a while you may begin to get the sense that if you've heard one National song, you've heard them all. Like Spoon, they have a compelling formula, and unlike Interpol, they have a lot of good songs. But there's definitely a finite range. The ninth time they start slow and build to a crescendo, the novelty wears off a bit. Which is why it was so important to stick around until the very last song of the four-song encore, which toppled that impression entirely. Berninger led the audience in an acoustic singalong of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks," and from the balcony you could hear every voice in the crowd perfectly. It was a touching moment from a band that is clearly very generous to their fans.

Random notebook dump: I noticed a lot of questionable mustaches in the crowd. Then I remembered: It was the final day of Movember.

Overheard: Guy walking into theater: "This is a cute little place!" Obnoxious people next to me: "It's all about the literariness of the lyricism."

 
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