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Friday, September 9, 2011

An Evening in Philadelphia, The National edition...

Several of my friends and family told me how crazy I am to see a weeknight show in Philadelphia.  We do live 20 miles from NYC.  Surely you can find a show there, right?

Well, yes.  In fact next Thursday I will be in Mercury Lounge doing just that.  Turns out The National did not hit NYC this time around.  After their brilliant set I saw last winter in Montclair they were more than worthy of the trip.  And let's be honest...  Philly is a) not that far away and b) is way too underrated in the eyes of New Yorkers.  OK, I get it, the Mets' fan hates the Philly fans.  Giants fans hate Eagles fans.  Bla, Bla, Bla.  Hate the jersey but love the town for God's sake.  We are adults aren't we?

Left the house @ 3:30pm and was enjoying my first belgian ale at at 5:30 on the dot.  There is a VERY strong likelihood I leave my house next week at 7pm for Mercury Lounge and get there as doors open at 9:30.  Drove about 75mph for a solid hour and a half down the Turnpike.  Stern replays and a hot coffee on a lazy Thursday afternoon.  Sign me up every day from now on.

A moment about Monk's please...  It has been at least 10 years since I discovered it, and it is still an exceptional experience.  They brought a newer food menu to the table and I liked.  Steak Frites were terrific along with their award winning frites dipping mayo.  It really does not get any better.

Throw in 12 or so Belgian on draft and you can understand my allegiance.   I understand Philly is known for its cheesesteaks and it is probably sacrilege to go elsewhere on a daytrip.  So be it...  Monk's will forever have a hold on me.

There was a concert too.  And boy was there a venue.  I have been to plenty of shows in the City of Brotherly Love.  Mostly the lower brow or smaller joints up until last evening.  The Mann, TLA, and Electric Factory was all I knew.  The National decided to class things up a bit.  Enter the Academy of Music on the corner of Broad and Locust.  I come to find out it is the oldest Opera House in the US.  1857 to be exact.  No drinks in the hall itself.  Immaculate and well maintained bathrooms.  Cushioned seats and ushers EVERYWHERE.  This place is special.  It took me most of Yo La Tengo's set to breath it all and fully appreciate the building.  That isn't to slight Yo La Tengo's set.  There were some serious sound issues and the main PA was down for their first 3 songs.  They gamely played instrumentals and were very precise and pleasant.  I have known of the decades old Hoboken trio for years.  I have friends who turned me on to them and are firm believers.  Given they were dealt with some technical issues and an otherwise abbreviated gig, I will refrain from going too in depth.  Their Roland Kirk meets Cosby show on acid induced cover of the Beach Boys' "Little Honda" was both inspired and overdone.  Any way you score it these guys (and girl) are worth a listen.  Their manic horn section was fun, but maybe took away from some quiet moments.  I do kinda dig female drummers.  It's a lot like girls who drive trucks, or work construction.  It's a little bit bad ass.  It helps when you can do it proficiently.   For more info take a look here:

We found out Yo La Tengo was delayed a half hour so naturally The National was too.  They apologized several times before unloading several tracks from their haunting and beautiful newest album High Violet.  Within the first 6 songs "Anyone's Ghost", "Bloodbuzz Ohio",  "Afraid of Everyone" and "Conversation 16" were played, and played well.  The sweet baritone sounds of Matt Berninger were met well with the Hall's acoustics.  His words were audible and clear.  His command, like always, was most strong.  His energy was not as high as the November Montclair show.  But they have gone non-stop since then so he, and his mates get a bit of a pass.

Not like they need one.  The rest of the band (brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf) fill out this formidable band.  It's also great to see a band incorporate a horn section flawlessly to the proceedings.  It can be overkill and smother the overall sound if used improperly.  This will never happen under The National's watch.  It did not come as much of a surprise to hear their sound engineer fixed the Hall's PA system by switching brains of one system to another.  They are a band that SOUNDS great.  It is cohesive, flawless melody with an unmistakable voice icing the cake.  Drummer Bryan Devendorf is an absolute force and standout.  He defines the expression "drumming to a different beat."  He fills in gaps with such precision it is a pleasure to watch.

The rest of the set had familiar and welcome cuts.  "Apartment Story" hit all the right notes and had the crowd dancing.  So did the song that brought them to my attention years ago, "Mr November."  Maybe because I was born that month, and despite the fact Obama used it for his campaign a few years back, I really, really like that song.  "Fake Empire", "Start a War" "England", and a rousing "Terrible Love" were also stand-outs from a very nice night at the thee ate oar.  I am unsure if a band like The National will end up back at The Hall, but if so it is well worth the trip.

For some examples and/or tracks from the playlist take a look:

"Apartment Story"

"Mr November"  Live version from Brooklyn Academy of Music.  You get a good feel for what I saw last night.  Similar venue and performance.  Singer is an animal.

"England"  again live and amazing.  This takes a while to build but if you hang in it is worth it.  Ok, have a few beers first.  4:50 mark on = :-)

"Bloodbuzz Ohio" 

"Fake Empire"

"Terrible Love"  Good to see a band having fun and enjoying itself.  It is apparent here in both pictures and sounds.

I should also point out the visual presentation The National employed last night was first rate.   They had fixed cameras and other folks operating handy-cams projecting live feeds to a large projection screen.  A visual artist/videographer/editor mixed in those live shots with other pre-shot images and colors.  The overall effect was stunning and like nothing I have ever seen before.  The show, from venue to performance, was a real treat for the senses.

I could gripe about the crowd yelling out song requests ad nauseum, or the fact that I could not find a WAWA on the way home... but I am not going to let those trivial things bother me.  Less than a week before Caveman!   Then Foo Fighters, Lykke Li, hell maybe even Cut/Copy Monday. Bring on the Fall!!!


  1. After reading your review, I'm seriously considering going to see them play at the Beacon Theater in December. Are you going to be hitting any of those shows?

  2. got tix for last night. Well worth it!!!