lot of it also is The National's stirring, bigger-than-life sound.
Their dreamy music feels like a sonic confession made under anesthesia.
The Brooklyn five-piece's style is sophisticated and smart. Their
mostly acoustic instrumentation ranges from guitar to piano to trumpet,
playing simple, almost austere parables that somehow bear the same
weight and depth of much louder, moodier bands like Interpol or
Radiohead. A large part of the band's dark-violet color stems from
Berninger's low, brassy voice that falls somewhere between Nick
Cave, Tindersticks' Stuart Staples and Gordon Lightfoot.
With such control
over the band's overall sound, it's no surprise that Berninger delivers
his lines not from behind a keyboard or with a guitar slung around
his neck, but instead standing alone behind the microphone like
a true rock 'n' roll frontman. Though surrounded by his band mates,
that aloneness can, at times, feel daunting.
exactly a great showman," Berninger said. "Years ago I
used to drink and smoke on stage, those were my props. Now I can't
do that as much, so it can feel awkward. I keep my hands in my pockets.
It's fun, it's kind of a weird thing that I'm starting to enjoy."
He said the
band has a rather laid-back stage presence. "We take it seriously,
but we're not a well-oiled machine," he said. "We let
it be loose. Every show is kind of different, we usually try to
roll with whatever's going on. Some say the shows are more reckless
than our record sounds. We don't really try to recreate the record
Just as their
albums continue to get discovered by new fans, the bands' live performances
continue to grow in attendance. It's been a slow process, but the
pace has been just fine by them.
not on a big label or have a huge budget," Berninger said.
"The kind of press we've received has come organically. And
for us, that's how we've developed as a band and how we write songs.
It's a slow, iterative process, which all makes sense in terms of
how our career has gone. We're just happy to reach a broader audience
and play sold-out shows."
a contrast to playing the near empty rooms that Berninger described
as the norm just a few years ago. "We're very used to playing
to under 10 people, like we did for so many years," he said.
"Back then, if we had more than 50 people show up, we were
But even today,
not every show's a sell-out, and that reality helps keep the band
well-grounded, Berninger said. "We'll play in Paris and it'll
be sold out, but then play a few miles outside of the city and only
20 people will be there," he said. "It doesn't rattle
us, it puts it all in perspective."
Published in The Omaha Reader Sept. 13, 2007.
Copyright 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
ago I used to drink and smoke on stage, those were my props.
Now I can't do that as much, so it can feel awkward."