On Wednesday night, the Brooklyn-based indie rock band The National took the stage at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City for the first time. Eager fans, who had purchased tickets months in advance, stood waiting on Valentine Street in heightened anticipation, hours before the doors opened.
When the band members opened with “Runaway,” the room was very dim with a violet backdrop curtain being the prominent visual attraction. The opener, with its subdued guitar riffs and lack of percussion, showcased vocalist Matt Berninger’s distinctive baritone voice and established a closeness with the audience that remained throughout the show.
With the band’s next song, “Anyone’s Ghost,” the crowd was introduced to the attention-grabbing drum work of Bryan Devendorf. Devendorf reminded the audience why he is debatably the best drummer in the indie rock genre by supplementing the music with unrelenting rhythms and forceful drum fills like those found in “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Conversation 16.”
Another notable feature of the band’s music was the wide variety of instruments used. In addition to the standard instruments played by the Dessner and Devendorf brothers, big parts were given to Padma Newsome (violin and viola), Kyle Resnick (trumpet), and Ben Lanz (trombone and trumpet). These supporting musicians added a vital flavor to the music and even became the center of attention at times such as the brass fanfare outro of “Fake Empire.”
Amidst all the musicians on stage, Berninger was a show in and of himself during the show, creating the persona of a distressed young adult in some songs and an unstable madman in others. During “Afraid Of Everyone” he seemed close to tears, and while screaming the titular lyrics of “Squalor Victoria,” he appeared to be close to ripping out his own hair.
Berninger showed a lot of crowd interaction throughout the evening, but the climax of the show came during the encore and set list staple, “Mr. November,” when Berninger climbed down from the stage and made his way through the crowd singing the chorus while the crowd held his microphone cord above their heads.
When The National ended their nineteen-song set list with “Terrible Love,” the crowd showered them with a prolonged applause and those seated in the balcony gave them a standing ovation. The National left the crowd hopeful their first visit would not be their last.