Rock shows aren’t the place for intimacy. That’s why we have singer-songwriting, the blues, really any other number of genres to fill that need. But if you want to just watch a band, find something else. Rock deserves dancing, clapping, head-banging, even just nodding. See, rock bands are measured by their ability to shake the crowd, and if there’s no participation, we ask, “What are they doing wrong?”
Lasr Thursday night at the Black Cat, Matt Berninger of The National stepped up to the mic with a dangerous look of indifference. The band started. He tilted his head to the mic and began to sing. Once he finished his part on vocals, he turned and took a few steps back towards the drums, picking up his beer and cigarette, while the band continued to play. It was unclear what this meant for the rest of the show, and it spawned thoughts of rock’s unforgivable sin: Did he not care? But questions would be answered as soon as the second song began.
The band took off with “Secret Meaning,” and Berninger dedicated the song before throwing himself into his lyrics. Screaming as the song climaxed, it became clear that it wasn’t indifference that captivated Berninger, but passion for his lyrics.
The music weaved gorgeously. Two guitars never have been intertwined so delicately. They were at once both necessary, making the absence of one impossible to imagine. Though perhaps most impressive were the drumming beats, providing immaculate rhythms for the band to rip on. Brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf played off each other perfectly the entire night, which raises the question: do families play better? Very few bands feel so united as The National did.
No matter how well the music moved, the crowd remained still, as if what they watched a man literally pour his soul into the mic. It was intimate. It was religious. Berninger clasped his hands around the mic, raising it above his head as he cried, “I pull off your jeans, and you spill jack and coke in my collar / I melt like a witch and scream / I’m so sorry for everything / I’m so sorry for everything / I’m so sorry for everything / I’m so sorry for everything!” The stage provided a platform for his confessional, and the crowd responded in reverence.
The National played hard, but the crowd stood still Tuesday, not dancing, not head-banging, simply gazing. Everyone knew this was something more than a rock show. It was too intimate. It was great.