Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Why I Dislike Your Favorite Band: The National

You know that band? The one that you keep hearing about from all of the cool kids? The obscure indie band whose name is thrown out in passing by hipsters, causing you to ask yourself, "where the hell have I been?" The band that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were the week before Pitchfork reared its head?

The National is that band, or one of them at the very least.

At some point a little before Christmas last year, I started seeing "The National" popping up on writers' "Best of" lists for 2005. My curiosity was piqued: usually I've at least heard of the bands on these lists, even those by the writers and bloggers who revel in touting obscure artists. But not The National. Were they the next big thing? Was I given some divine opportunity to "discover" a group before any of my friends? While they might not admit it openly, most fans of indie music live for that moment, when they can mention an obscure band while sipping on a PBR, and be answered with only a blank look and a polite, yet resigned inquiry:

Gloating: "Oh, you've never heard of [fill in the blank]? They're pretty good. I don't know... they're sort of Alice-in-Chains-meets-Talking-Heads, with a little Wolf Parade and Eric B. & Rakim thrown in for good measure." (WHAT?)

So, I was eager to fill this void in my admittedly shallow knowledge of indie rock. But try as I might, I couldn't locate their new album, Alligator, the one that was making all of the year-end lists. (Disclaimer: lacking any street cred, I usually rely on the Barnes & Noble or the Borders near my office, so obscure CDs can be difficult to locate during my lunch hour).

Turns out, The National has been around for a while. They formed in 1999, and all members are from Cincinnati via Brooklyn (aren't they all?). They've got three albums and two EPs, and have been toiling in relative obscurity for the last seven years.

When The National showed up on the Black Cat's schedule in January of 2006, I decided to take a chance and I bought a ticket so as to see what all of the hubbub was about. In preparation for their show, I resorted to "alternative" means of acquiring the bulk of their new album, listening to a few tracks here and there. I wasn't too impressed with what I was hearing, but I didn't despair: as any KISS fan can attest, what transpires in the studio is not necessarily an indication of what to expect in a live setting.

Concert night rolled around and I sidled up the merch table in the Cat's main room, slapping down the $10 for Alligator (which included a bonus disc of B-sides - score!), hoping that it was a small price to pay for the possibility of a future conversion. It certainly wouldn't have been unheard of for me. As the lights went down and the band took the stage, the usual reserved, polite claps and cheers greeted them. What I was subjected to for the next 45 minutes could best be described as a combination of boredom, frustration, and borderline outrage.

First and foremost, the band's lead singer, Matt Berninger (where most of my ire lies), has seen one too many Morrissey/REM videos. Lots of dramatic poses. Lots of face-cradling. Lots of gazing up into the stage lighting. Lots of erratic hand-clapping. You know the routine. Watch the video for "Losing My Religion" for a refresher.

Secondly, their music is flat out boring! Sure, there are the indie-requisite nonsensical, clumsy, pretentious lyrics and metaphors, but The National ain't Bright Eyes, kids (and Conor Oberst isn't even that good - music critics just haven't figured it out yet). I read somewhere that their lyrics are "self-deprecating," but I'm usually fighting off a severe case of the yawns when their music is playing so I couldn't say for sure. Admittedly, there are somewhat interesting rhythm changes throughout a few of their songs, but that won't get you anywhere if the music itself accompanying that rhythm is uninspiring and doesn't even match up with said rhythms. And through all of this is Berninger's deep monotone, mumbling singing, putting the final nail in the coffin. While most at the show would be loath to admit it, I am fairly certain that more than half of the ticket-holders that night at the Cat were as bored as I was, judging by the amount of background chatter. Basically, the scene consisted of a few hundred dudes in tight jeans, Vans Slip-ons, and Buddy Holly glasses, drinking Amstel Lights and PBRs milling about and chatting with one another.

Come to think of it, that's what most nights at the Black Cat are like.

To date, The National's performance that night is the one and only time I've ever left a show early. Around 40 minutes into their set, I decided that my time would be better spent sleeping in my bed than sitting through another 30 minutes of drivel.

And that is why I dislike your favorite band (The National).



Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are a moron

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no, actually, he's right.

The National fucking suck.

1:50 AM  
Blogger maura said...

actually, here's what a blend of talking heads, rakim, and wolf parade would sound like.

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so wrong about this band I don't know where to begin. The lyrics are quite brilliant actually...

12:41 PM  

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