Singer Matt Berninger, of indie rock royalty The National, joked last night to the thousands in attendance at Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, "we have played many places in and around NYC, but we always loved this place best. It's good to be back where it all started." Well, something like that. Berninger is from Ohio and met Scott Devendorf (bass) while they attended the University of Cincinnati. Only after they left Ohio for Brooklyn, about 15 years ago, and hooking up with twin brothers Aaron (guitar/keyboard) and Bryce Dessner (guitar) and Scott's brother Bryan (drums) did the band take shape. Then, like about half of today's alt rock bands, they began to call Brooklyn and NY home. In those 15 years Brooklyn has become Manhattan West and Jay Z and Bruce Ratner built an immense Arena in an insanely busy part of town (to the dismay of many of the locals.) The Nets left Jersey for it and the Islanders will be playing hockey there this winter. This was The National's epic homecoming. The National? An arena band? Sure, why the hell not? If Passion Pit can play MSG, these guys can headline this venue. But what a venue...
Did I mention it's size? The Barclay's Center has a capacity of 18 thousand. That is easy to believe. And since the motif is mostly black (hallways, ceilings, tile...) it has an cave-like feel to it. My wife thought it looked like an Equinox gym. That might have had a little to do with the fragrance that permeates the place. Can someone tell me if they blast cologne in that place? It was smoky in the concourse from something. And I am sorry, but at this size you are NEVER going to be able to make it feel like a rock club. Once you start checking ticket stubs for sections it is clear you are at an "event" not rock show. There are plenty out there who like an arena or stadium show. This blogger is not among them. For one thing, I need to be able to see the bands faces. I want to know if there is improvisation going on, or if a singer is getting emotional, and how, for the most part, they get along with one another on stage. Chemistry, or lack thereof, are necessary components to capture my attention. That cannot be replicated by a video screen. My seats were pretty darn good too: lower level pretty much straight on with the stage. When Berninger announced he had a guest vocalist (Annie Clark from St. Vincent), I had to take his word for it. They were far away! She could have been anyone. Her vocals could not be heard either. In fact, it makes no sense why she was there at all.
Thankfully the sound is pretty darn good. Berninger's big baritone sounded great and the rat-a-tat drumming of Bryan was clearly energetic and emphatic. Berninger can not be faulted for not filling the arena and the Dessner brothers get a pass too. Again, the place is immense. The National really don't have a sound fit for this scale. These guys are a 3 to 4 thousand seat band. And that is ok. Who can really play an arena these days? Save the Bon Jovi, Bruce, Coldplay, U2 votes too. Think for a moment of newer bands. Bands!! Not Taylor Swift or Gaga... those are variety acts (special in their own right.) Categorize those musical acts the same way you would the Harlem Globetrotters or Disney on Ice.
Music loud and big enough to knock an arena crowd off its feet. Is it Foo Fighters? Pearl Jam? Nine Inch Nails (who are touring this summer?)
You gotta be real freaking loud and have a big personality/stage presence to pull it off. Dave Grohl is probably the closet around. Friends tell me Brandon Flowers of The Killers has what it takes. Laid back, black suited Berninger, skews more lounge than arena. His sardonic asides in between songs are witty for a smaller room.
It's just all very odd.
Don't get me wrong. There were moments of real power. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Afraid of Everyone" from their amazing record High Violet were soaring and special. Earlier songs, like "Abel" and "Squalor Victoria" were performed with high energy. And slower numbers, like the opener "Don't Swallow the Cap" from their new record Trouble Will Find Me, were special in their own right.
It's just very anti-rock show...
There are plenty of clean lines and modern decorative touches. The concession stands boast espresso, sushi and authentic NY sandwiches. Stoli handles the liquor and beer stands are abundant. Remembering the blight that was the Atlantic rail yards (which this arena replaced- was built on top of) the Barclay's is easily an above average upgrade.
We handed an usher a stub. We had to stay in our section. People were not standing. Other folks were insistent they sit in seat 12, not 14. All that was missing was someone selling Cracker Jack, or a foul ball it my way ( I guess stray puck or basketball makes more sense.)
It was good to see one of my favorites on a big stage. They deserve the acclaim, both commercial and critical. It was nice to see another grand new piece of NYC architecture and innovation. Say what you will about the Barclay's, it is nothing if not impressive.
Let me be the first to say these entities need not meet again. It will be great to catch a hockey game this fall. If and when The National plays in smaller venue later this year, count me in.
Until then I will stick to music clubs for music. Dinosaur Jr at Irving Plaza tomorrow night is more my speed. Although the doors open at 11pm. Yikes!!
The National setlist Barclays Center 6.5.13 SiriusXM broadcast the show live and will be replaying on SiriusXMU should you want to listen. Tune in to that network or look them up online for more detail.
|Some street art. I guess.|
|There are pictures of old NYC basketball squads on the interior corridor walls. Weird mix of old on a very new (and new looking) building.|
|Like a steel birds nest (like the Chinese Olympic Stadium)|
|The interior of the "Geico Lobby" Modern, Modern, Modern!|
|The many subways of NYC are just steps from the Center. The 4 took about 30 minutes to get to Lower Manhattan. Figure 30 minutes for midtown too.|
|Pacific Standard Nice beer bar with West Coast theme located on 4th Ave. Just a few blocks away from the venue with a nice happy hour, friendly bar keepers and cool crowd. Nice find!|
|The National, Barclays Center 6.5.13|