A couple of years ago, Bryan Devendorf (drummer for The National) documented the band's trip to SXSW for us. We enjoyed it so much, we asked him to do it again! This time he documented their recent shows with Arcade Fire right here in New York, and even addresses those security guards at Radio City.

Related: NYT's article "Sex, Drugs and Updating Your Blog"

Fake Empire.mp3 (from The National's upcoming release, Boxer.)

2007_05_arts_national1.jpgI wake to the sound of a helicopter whupping low over the block and stumble from my bedroom into the living room-slash-kitchen area. In the late-morning glare, the world assembles itself in fragments. Birds crying majestic arpeggios dominate the natural noise floor. A screen door opens, the dog with the jingly collar is let out, and the screen door bangs shut in the characteristic way of all screen doors. Timeless. Then the neighbor with the dog sparks up his Zippo. He is always over there taking smoke breaks, all day long and deep into the night. I imagine him to be the lone cameraman in a homemade porn operation, overworked and overstressed. But, ah, the view of the garden from the back window is incredibly detailed and utterly green. I see a pair of giant hornets, an invasive European variety, engage in a pas de deux in the dizzy sunlight before vanishing into the shrubbery. Springtime in Brooklyn. Love it.

2007_05_arts_national2.jpgSo, I am home at last and feeling pretty good. Our orbit through the Southeast opening for Arcade Fire is a blur of velvety heat and adventure. In Atlanta, there was a post-show Whirly Ball challenge. (In this sport, players armed with jai alai-type scoops tool around in bumper cars and attempt to fire a plastic ball into an elevated goal.) Whirly Ball is not for the fainthearted. Collisions abound. An errant pass strikes me in the face and a member of Team AF suffers “possible internal injuries” when his car’s control stick jams him in the ribcage. My game stats: 2 pts, 2 assts, 2 Coors Lights.
From Atlanta back north to the Mason-Dixon Line, heroically lit gas stations with ridiculous names like Pumper’s and BJ’s are laid out like stepping stones. Outlandish!

The next two days, we will be in Washington Heights at the United Palace, which, you may know, is a functioning church whose flock is shepherded by one Reverend Ike. Anyway, we are tasked with warming up the crowd, a concept that has taken on a literal meaning, playing in chill, air-conditioned venues many times the size than we are accustomed to. It’s quite amazing, even surreal. We are through the looking-glass, people. Florae and faunae speak; each brook we ford brings new adventures, new characters.

A strange feeling of recurrence and déjà vu permeates each day. I feel stronger. We have entered a Nietzschean time loop. Afternoon arrival, a brief sound check, feeling harassed by union drones, the performance, a quick bite of leftover catering, then witnessing the Great Awakening unfold. However, a new element is introduced at Monday’s show. There is an itinerant masseuse backstage, in the church office, which doubles as our dressing room. It is a heady cocktail, this aroma of massage oil and Jack Daniel’s and worship. What would Reverend Ike think?


Monday night performance is OK. After hours, I join a merry crew that takes over Coogan’s on 169th and Broadway. We toast our luck for being cast in the reflected glow of Arcade Fire. Then, after a Patrón-induced New Order dance off, I lurch homeward on the train. Two hours later, I am home. Lights out. _ _ _

2007_05_arts_national7.jpgTuesday is a lot like Monday. The weather holds; the garden grows; the neighbor smokes. Unfortunately, I feel the night’s performance is a shambolic pantomime of a National show. Alas. Making matters worse, Matt sprains his ankle and is forced to hop around the stage on one leg like Jethro Tull front man Ian Anderson. The following day, Scott will purchase him a cane.

At the end of Arcade Fire’s set, the crowd rushes the stage. One of the union guys goes down in the mêlée. He is either hurt or playing possum for workman’s comp. Either way I am secretly pleased, but then I feel guilty for feeling pleased at this karmic turn. It’s a decidedly darker evening and we skedaddle pronto, so as not to get caught up in any bullshit. We travel downtown to the after-party which Björk and Matthew Barney are supposed to attend but head elsewhere because it’s very packed.
_ _ _

2007_05_arts_national7jpg.jpgWednesday is our final day going up this river. Gracias por las memorias, Arcade Fuego. I am elated to see our name on the Radio City marquee. The place is an awesome specimen of art deco vibrance. Totally stunning. Our show goes pretty well and Arcade Fire are especially good tonight. They make a gorgeous sound. It pulses like a still-beating heart resting in an ordinary-looking reliquary, up from the catacombs of Montréal. Majestic. . . . But unfortunately the union thing is even weirder here, the staff is kinda prickly, and the night ends with numerous ejections.

Afterwards, I mill around the 5th floor among the assembled VIPs. A smattering of SNL castmembers is just over there. Rock stars in the corner. It’s been fun. I’m grateful for the chance to peer behind the curtain for a few days but I’m so looking forward to a return to normalcy. I want to wake up each morning in my own bed. And, like the French say, stay home and tend the garden.

(Photos by Jeff Salem, Scott Devendorf)