The National Are Completely Inoffensive ... Which Is What Makes Them So Offensive

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Here's the deal with The National: you either embrace "Mr. November" as a personal anthem and the rest of their catalog for its completely approachable and expertly helmed agenda in Almost Arena Rock, or you don't. You're either with Matt Berninger when he starts screaming as though he accidentally stepped on lit coals, or you're recoiling because you think the lead singer thrashing about up there is about to break his glasses in the middle of a seizure. You either keep tabs on who guitarist Aaron Dessner is working with this week (dude's an amiable producer whose credits include Sharon Van Etten's Tramp and Local Natives' Hummingbird in addition to the majority of The National's releases) or you get confused about which Dessner brother is the one who's making a guitar do very weird things for no explicable reason, 'cause there are two.

You're either a National fan or you're not. They're that polarizing, despite their wholly inoffensive contributions to the indie rock canon, and their Saturday Night Live debut was no exception.

See also:
"OMG Her Face!": America Reacts to Haim's SNL Performance


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The National - Barclays Center - 6/5/13

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Better Than: Most of what I associate with the term "arena rock"

On May 21st, the National played three New York shows of increasing size to celebrate the release of their new album Trouble Will Find Me. It started with a lunchtime set at the Ditmas Park bar Sycamore, continued with an evening stop at Public Assembly, and concluded with a packed show at Mercury Lounge. The choice was no accident. Speaking to a room of diehard fans, the band reminisced about the importance of the Mercury Lounge, a small but famous venue that holds about 250 people. Frontman Matt Berninger recalled how they played there over 10 years ago and nobody came. It was a funny way to celebrate: return to a place you mark as an important but also embarrassing part of your rise, around the time you have perhaps reached the peak of your powers.

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Most Likely Outcomes of The National Playing One Song For Six Hours at MOMA

Categories: MOMA, The National

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Tilda Swinton sleeping in a box at MOMA PS1 was an artistic feat that many around the world thought could never be topped by anyone anywhere ever. But The National are not afraid, and on Sunday they will be playing their song "Sorrow" for six-hours straight. What could happen over those six hours? We chopped the endless possibilities down to a manageable 10.

See also: The National Premiere New Songs and a New Movie at Tribeca Film Fest

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The National Premiere New Songs and a New Movie at Tribeca Film Fest

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Last night, Mistaken for Strangers, a film that's sort of about the National and their tour for High Violet, but really turns into something else, debuted at the opening night of Tribeca Film Festival. It's a funny year for the band -- in June they'll headline Barclays Center, and tonight they hobnobbed with Robert DeNiro, who came onstage before their documentary. In some ways their ascent has been an inevitable process, a slow-burning rise from empty Mercury Lounge shows to this, but it's still sort of mind-boggling. Apparently DeNiro was a bit mind-boggled as well, since he said about seven words total before ceding control of the room to Jane Rosenthal, the festival's co-founder.

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The Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Festival, Starring The Walkmen, St. Vincent, Beirut, And A Bunch Of Other Bands, Is Happening In May

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St. Vincent headlines BAM on May 4.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music has announced the inaugural running of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, a three-day music, film, and art extravaganza put together by the National's Bryce and Aaron Dessner, and set to take over BAM from May 3 to 5. Named after a poem by Walt Whitman, the festival has a lineup stacked with the borough's biggest musical names on the rock side of things—The Walkmen, St. Vincent, and Beirut will headline, while the lineups are rounded out by quite a few YIMBY alums, including Zs, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Skeletons. Full lineup and ticketing info below.

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Live: Steve Reich Brings "WTC 9/11" To Carnegie Hall

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© Stefan Cohen

Music of Steve Reich
Bang on a Can All-Stars and Friends (feat. Bryce Dessner), eighth blackbird, Kronos Quartet, So Percussion
Carnegie Hall
Saturday, April 30

Better than: The ritual, anniversary replay of news broadcasts from the morning of 9/11.

There is no other way to begin but by acknowledging that this review of a classical music concert from over the weekend was re-written after word spread, on Sunday night, of a successfully lethal military strike by U.S. forces against Osama bin Laden.

Your individual mileage may vary, in terms of whether you think that a mockable reality. Though even before news of bin Laden's death crossed social media wires, there had been a feeling that the window for critical commentary on Saturday night's concert at Carnegie Hall would need to be held open for some time--if only to accommodate reflection, let alone breaking news developments. The show was two things, at least: an evening-long celebration of New York musical eminence Steve Reich's 75th birthday this year; and the local premiere of his long-anticipated, only recently completed work about 9/11 and its aftermath.

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Download The National's Opening Set For Yo La Tengo At Maxwell's


What they looked like, just for reference.

So the big whoop during this year's slate of Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows was the final night's long-rumored opening set from the National, deigning to play a venue just ever so slightly smaller than what they're used to these days. Even if you're still way more into YLT, this is a sufficiently momentous occasion to consider consulting NYC Taper's inevitable bootleg, no?

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Was 2010 The Best Year For Music Ever? Defending Taylor Swift And Hailing The-Dream

Welcome to Sound of the City's year-in-review rock-critic roundtable, an amiable ongoing conversation between five prominent Voice critics: Rob Harvilla, Zach Baron, Sean Fennessey, Maura Johnston, and Rich Juzwiak. We'll be here all week!

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Happier times for us all
My friends,

It's the conflict-averse, namby-pamby Midwesterner in me that's triggering this urge to defend every artist this panel has so far attacked. Quite a list we've got going so far, guys!


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Was 2010 The Best Year For Music Ever? Redeeming M.I.A.

Welcome to Sound of the City's year-in-review rock-critic roundtable, an amiable ongoing conversation between five prominent Voice critics: Rob Harvilla, Zach Baron, Sean Fennessey, Maura Johnston, and Rich Juzwiak. We'll be here all week!

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Dear Rob, Sean, Rich, and Maura,

I believe, as per our esteemed colleagues over at ILM, that the tortured anagram that Rob is looking for here is BLAND: Beach House (it's like you knew!), LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, the National, and Deerhunter. I like exactly one of those records, so fine with me, but before I start gassing on about how inspiring I found James Murphy to be in 2010, I believe there was a sprawling three-part opening question to be addressed. Let's take a moment to recall that at roughly this time last year, two smart critics, Sasha Frere-Jones and Simon Reynolds, were gently declaring hip-hop as we knew it dead. (Sasha: "If I had to pick a year for hip-hop's demise, though, I would choose 2009.")

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Live: The National Open, But Yo La Tengo Dominate During Their Final Hanukkah Night At Maxwell's

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Georgia, Ira, and the Clean's Hamish Kilgour, leading a drummer summit. Pics by Liz Clayton, more below.
Yo La Tengo/The National
Maxwell's
Wednesday, December 8

Better than: The other seven nights, kinda.

Nels Cline sitting in Tuesday was pretty sweet. Ditto Jeff Tweedy a few nights earlier. Likewise (of course) when the Feelies showed up last Thursday, celebrating the 26th anniversary of Yo La Tengo's very first show, on this very same Maxwell's stage. And no way to deny Will Oldham singing The Bells-era Lou Reed, also on Tuesday. But, despite a worshipful opening set by the National (whose over-politeness was well served by the Maxwell's stage and, in the Hanukkah spirit, might be left at that), the final stand of Yo La Tengo's eight-night Hanukkah run is absent big, click-through names. Instead, fans get the band's longtime pal, Hamish Kilgour, drummer for New Zealand indie-pop staples the Clean, to assist in perhaps the most satisfying performance of the eight-day week.

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