There are probably only about four bands that could have gotten us out of the house on Sunday — you know, after the perma-hangover bestowed upon us by Next Big Nashville. Luckily for us, one of those bands happens to be The National, and they happened to be playing the only venue we hadn’t yet graced with our presence this weekend: The Ryman.
Opener Owen Pallett played as a two-piece with some of the most unlikely instruments you’d expect from a two-piece: violin, keys, woodblocks and some other sundry percussion. Pallett definitely belongs in the same family tree as Andrew Bird — plenty of loops and ambitious vocals and string parts, though he’s less intentionally verbose than Bird. He was charming and engaging and consummately Canadian — polite and self-deprecating about being a violinist who’s predisposed to “rocking out.” His set was definitely melodically enjoyable, if not particularly our bag, per se.
Now, as many times as we’ve caught The National live — probably about three or four — we’ve never seen them indoors. It’s always been at some sort of outdoor festival in which our daily intake consisted of roughly 19 beers and as many arepas/pupusas/hot dogs. Thusly, we decided to prepare accordingly and sip wine all evening; we know the academic, Chardonnay-swilling fellas from The National would’ve been proud. Not that we’re going to email them and let them know about it or anything. Ahem.
Anyhow, we must say that we’re glad to have finally caught The National indoors, as their erudite melodrama is most palpable when backlit by tasteful but very powerful spotlights. The Ryman was genuinely the ideal venue for the Brooklynites-by-way-of-Cincinnati, as they played heavily off of the whole brotherly tension thing — the guitar-playing Dessner brothers poking at frontman Matt Berninger for his downtrodden lyrics and emotional detachment. But it was all in good fun, as each and every one of them played and sang the shit out of tunes from Boxer, Alligator, Cherry Tree and High Violet. Berninger even busted out his traditional crowd-wandering madness during “Mr. November.”
In the hallowed tradition of old venues — and The Ryman in particular — The National elected to play the final song of their encore off-mic and unamplified. It was “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” and it was goddamned awesome. Totally awe-inspiring, totally reverent, and they totally nailed it. Exactly the right way to end our weekend.