|The National are in the homestretch of touring behind their 2010 album High Violet. They are shown here at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Dec. 8 2011, with lead singer Matt Berninger. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI AGENCY)
Like a fighter answering the bell for the fifteenth round, Ohio-cum-New York group The National are still standing but are showing the toll that more than 18 months on the road behind their 2010 album High Violet can do.
In fact, you could change the old boxing phrase a bit and say they are slightly gig drunk.
Despite the thousands of miles The National, even on an off day, could surpass all but a handful of outfits at the top of their game.
With a lone Montreal gig left before a sextet of New York City shows wraps things up for now, the band led by the enigmatic and dry Matt Berninger managed a memorable 20-song, 100-minute set in the theatre set up of Toronto's Air Canada Centre.
While generously filling the set with High Violet material, the quintet also tossed in two brand new songs: Rylan and I Need My Girl (which featured violinist Owen Pallett). Both slower, sullen numbers aptly complemented bombastic nuggets such as Abel and Bloodbuzz Ohio.
After a camera followed them from dressing room to stage on the large video screen, The National opened with Runaway, a tender ballad which also started one of their two Massey Hall shows in June, 2010.
But, the band's knack for easily moving from slow to fast and back was evident early with Mistaken For Strangers and the folksy, highbrow approach to Baby We'll Be Fine, the latter closing with a wall of guitar from brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner.
Although five albums into their catalogue, The National hardly dipped back beyond album three (2005's Alligator) over the show. Only Son off their self-titled debut was the exception, instead trusting popular hits such as the drum-driven Squalor Victoria and Slow Show that the crowd – the majority of who sat throughout – revelled in.
The venue itself didn't overwhelm the group but Berninger appeared a bit irked at the small standing crowd on the floor. “F—k safety! Health is lame!” he quipped after Aaron Dessner cited some fire regulations. However, Berninger solved the problem himself before Sorrow, walking onto the floor to encourage fans to fill the floor via his “all access pass.”
“I broke some rules, I'm sorry, I know I started it,” he soon said as aisles filled with fans. He would atone for this later with a walk through the crowd filling the lower bowl as the stellar Terrible Love was an encore highlight.
Other standouts included the powerful paranoia-tinged Afraid Of Anyone, Conversation 16 and the “very sensitive” mid-tempo Apartment Story.
Berninger's pipes were also put to the test on the strenuous Mr. November but The National ended the gig on a sweet, endearing note with Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. Here the group stripped down to play without amps or mics at the lip of the stage, leading the crowd in a rousing singalong that pleased band and fans.
Overall a great show but a well-earned reprieve from the road is definitely in order.
Mistaken For Strangers
Baby We'll Be Fine
Afraid Of Everyone
I Need My Girl
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks