The National w/ This Is The Kit
Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA
11.28.17 & 11.29.17

There are no pyrotechnics or showers of confetti, no gimmicky costumes and nary a teenager in sight. This is The National, where what you see—and hear—is, thankfully, what you get. Deep into their second decade, the Midwestern-bred five-piece seem to be hitting a critical chord and two sold-out nights at Seattle’s historic Paramount Theatre resulted in plenty of googly-eyed adults living out their discontent in unison.

This Is The Kit—alias of British musician Kate Stables—opened both shows with 30-minute sets that showed off her banjo-laden alt-folk skills. At times unsettlingly sparse, TITK’s sound captured the early crowd’s attention with echoing harmonies and chilling guitars. At one point, Stables took a moment to thank the crowd for being punctual and someone shouted back, “Emphasis on punk.”

“Yes,” replied Stables, “You put the punk in punctual tonight.” Her wit on point, Stables and her compatriots mined the middle ground between rootsy folk and buzzing psych-rock for a sound that came off as impressively individual. On night two, an assist from The National’s Aaron Dessner came for their last two tracks, including the stormy “Hotter/Colder,” which Dessner contributed to on TITK’s latest record, this year’s Moonshine Freeze.

Absurdly underrated on the surface, yet having garnered critical acclaim at almost every turn, with the release of 2017’s Sleep Well Beast, The National scooped up their second Grammy nomination (their first for 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me) just days before their Seattle shows and the fans were primed for fantastic sets. Each night of the tour brought different tracks to light, with a focus on the new album, its songs swimming between favorites and deep cuts alike.

The five-piece, known for their inventive and adventurous musicianship coupled with emotionally and socially resonant lyrics, turned out impassioned live versions of everything from “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness,” to “Mr. November.” At various turns, singer Matt Berninger’s vocals seemed to teeter on the edge of breaking yet his trademark baritone retained its balance between romantic and scathing.

That balance is something the band has remarkably maintained throughout their career, with a deep catalog to show for it. It seemed like every track was someone’s favorite, and it’s rare to see a crowd as attentive as they were for these shows, clapping along without instigation from the band, screaming the lyrics back toward the stage.

Berninger poked fun at political figureheads via song dedications, like “Walk It Back,” which he pluckily dedicated to Karl Rove each night. But the meat of the show was in the music. The National are, quite possibly, one of the best bands of the last 20 years, while they humbly act like that’s not the case. Born of two sets of brothers—Bryce (guitar) and Aaron (guitar/keyboards) Dessner and Scott (bass) and Bryan (drums) Devendorf—along with Berninger, this very adult-friendly band’s virtuoso guitars, driving beats, and nuanced language come alive on stage.

For any questioning listener, their live show is really where the gut check is. While crowd favorite “I Need My Girl,” drew lighters into the air, “Day I Die” saw Berninger wielding the microphone to point of self-inflicted wound, as he stopped to comment on how many injuries he’s given himself while getting lost in the performance. Both nights were seemingly off-the-cuff in a way that The National always are, an acerbic attitude on one hand and Berninger jumping into the crowd to get face-to-face with the fans on the other.

If forced pick one night over the other, I would be forced into choosing the first simply because four-songs into the encore, they finished the night with a completely acoustic round of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” The mic facing the crowd, I’ve never heard a singalong more enthusiastic. It was, overall, a two-night stand worth staying for every second.

Review and photos by Stephanie Dore

The National

This Is The Kit