The National passion | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

MAIN guy Matt Berninger bounces between passive and aggressive spectrums throughout the show. PHOTO BY KRIS ROCHA
MAIN guy Matt Berninger bounces between passive and aggressive spectrums throughout the show. PHOTO BY KRIS ROCHA

The best gigs remain forever— from the way the frontman carries himself throughout double-digit sets, to the way instrumentalists make the most out of their solos, down to the collective bow and wave that conclude the performance.


They live captured in pocket recorders, phones and cameras.


But one particular gig on a night in February transcended the physical— for the very reason that it was simple, heartfelt and arresting all together.


All thanks to American indie rock band The National.


The second headliner of the two-day FebFest Manila mounted a set that gave fans a sonic tour of their new songs off “Trouble Will Find Me,” with a little brush-up on their old, quintessential tracks from “Boxer” and “High Violet.”


Formed in Ohio and cultivated in New York, the band members stood out sharp against a simple backdrop in Pasig’s MetroTent donning button-downs and suits.


Frontman Matt Berninger was a little extra snappy with his all-black three-piece and, of course, the messy hair that came with the relaxed demeanor.


The band put up a soundscape for the crowd—opening with the bright, tones-laden “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” which saw an extended bridge gradually climbing to the anthemic “Abel,”only to be elegantly torn down by the melodically sumptuous and equally dirgey “Sea of Love,” which saw the crowd singing, stomping and clapping to the beat.


Berninger brought his typical self to the show, on point but collected. But there were a handful of moments when he injected the occasional dulcet screams to some songs.


The five members have been together for 15 years; they have produced a total of five albums, with songs tackling love, grief, loss, struggle, tension, turmoil and coping.


“Both the lyrics and the songs we put together are melodramatic,” Berninger explained to a pack of journalists prior to the show.


“At times they are sad and dark, but I think we’re comfortable with it because there’s a funny side in that,” he added. “We’re just not worried about embarrassing ourselves anymore.”


The band broke the barriers of anonymity in 2005 following the release of “Alligator.” Their exposure was furthered after their song “Fake Empire” was used for US President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.


Other noteworthy works include their interpretation of “Rains of Castamere” for the popular fantasy TV series “Game of Thrones” and their song “Lean” for the film “Catching Fire.”


Berninger said “Lean” was a really good song. Though he noted that their rendition of “Rains” was actually different in a sense that the band was “inhabiting another universe.”


American indie rock band The National takes the Pasig crowd into a “feels trip.” PHOTO BY KRIS ROCHA

“We get into this fantasy headspace delivering it. I associate with the Lannisters and I’m not sure why. It’s awful. Maybe because I’m blonde?” he jested.


“Whatever we write outside of our records, it lets us step outside our own shells a little bit. It’s been fun and healthy, like being in the ‘Mindy Project,’” the vocalist added.


The National is also notable for playing in the Museum of Modern Art’s (Moma) Sunday Session where they continuously played “Sorrow” for six grueling hours and a total of 108 times.


“[Icelandic performance artist] Ragnar Kjartansson was a fan of us and he just loved ‘Sorrow.’ He pitched it to Moma and Moma pitched it to us,” Berninger said.


“Humor and sadness—Kjartansson kind of knows how those two things mingle,” he added. “The drama and darkness of life, its lightness and the sadness, and the funniness of every beautiful and awful situation often are tangled up together. He knew that the song is both sad and uplifting.”


“I think that everyone in the band would agree that it was our favorite day; that we’ll always remember it. The fact that we agreed to do it and got through, and the fact that it came out beautiful and transcendent means a lot to us,” offered Aaron, one half of the Dessner twins who both handle guitars.


“I feel like it’s a day when we can look back it’s a memory, say all these songs that we write have something more than we can understand. You could lose yourself in the songs. You just close your eyes. We do it in most of our songs. Not that people don’t want to listen to it,” he quipped.


“We went through different emotions playing it,” Berninger recalled.


Asked about the band’s influence, he said that it was impossible to pick one.


“For me, I could name 20. I got Tom Waits for the voice, R.E.M., Billy Bragg, Cat Power, The Pixies, Nirvana and Thompson Twins whose concert was the first I went to. It blew my mind. I thought to myself, ‘I wanna be [on the stage].’”


“I bet everybody in the band would have a hard time completing a list of influences. But Nirvana would probably be in all of them,” he said.


Asked about what triggers the creative process, Berninger replied: “We use crutches in life. It’s not always raw.”


“In this world of rock ‘n’ roll; you go too far [and] you might lose your way,” said Dessner. “We all have ways of getting through performing. Performing is not natural for everyone. Alcohol has been a big part of our band.”


“The first songs we wrote because we were hanging out as friends. It hasn’t really changed that much.”


But Berninger noted that they were relatively square in terms of substance abuse.


“We drink a lot of wine. There’s been weed in our history but some things are dangerous.  I know that I’m not that strong and these things can probably take me over. I don’t touch the other stuff.”


True enough, Berninger was spotted chugging a bottle of wine in between songs throughout the night.


The National played a 20-song set, including Berninger’s personal favorite “Bloodbuzz Ohio.”  They also performed fan favorites “Squalor Victoria” and “Slow Show.”


A horn section reinforced the band throughout the show, making their presence felt by gracefully interlocking during songs’ bridges, fadeouts and vocal lulls.


Drummer Bryan Devendorf looked like he was enjoying in his zone, unloading crisp beats to go with the bass riffs of Logan Cole, who was stringing for the former’s brother and the band’s original bassist, Scott.


The National wrapped up the night with an encore consisting of three songs. Most notable was their raw and subdued rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” which triggered an intimate sing-along with the crowd.


The night was opened by American act Buke and Gase, followed by Trevor Powers, also known as Youth Lagoon.


The National was the second main act to perform following post-rock band Mogwai’s headlining on Feb. 13.  A portion of the proceeds went to the Philippine Red Cross for the relief and rehabilitation of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” victims.






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