The National Return
As we hinted last week, the National played the first of two "secret" shows last night at the Bell House in Gowanus as a warm-up for their upcoming tour behind new album High Violet. The band played an 18-song set for the cramped, sold-out crowd (which included a beardless Michael Stipe!), augmented by 5 other musicians, including a small horns section and a violin player. Although there were nearly as many people on-stage as you'd find at a Broken Social Scene concert, the arrangements never felt indulgent or flashy. The older songs, including a raucous "Abel" and the superb Boxer-trilogy "Slow Show," "Apartment Story," and "Start a War," were all more muscular than their recorded versions.

It was a very fun night; what else can you call an evening when lead singer Matt Berninger continually flashes devil's horns (albeit, it was a sign to their sound person to turn up the reverb, but still). The band looked delighted throughout the entire set, Berninger in particular; he was equally traipsing and lunging around the stage, sometimes with goblet of wine in hand, sometimes throwing his newly-bought mic stand around. During the encore, he walked into the audience, straining his vocals and elating fans during a jet-fueled "Mr November."

The bulk of the set was a showcase for 11 new tunes (most likely all from the upcoming LP); on the whole, the new songs sound like a summation of (and progression from) their last two major albums, taking the tension-filled skeletons of the Boxer-era songs and injecting Alligator's guitar-catharsis, with slightly expanded arrangements. Highlights included set opener "Blood Buzz, Ohio," slow burner "Vanderlylle Cry Baby" (you can see video here), rocking "Conversation 16," and the already-classic ballad "Runaway." Here's the full setlist, and below, you can see a video of last night's set-closer "Fake Empire."

Untitled from Gothamist on Vimeo.

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