Taking on the opening duties was, Talkdemonic, an electronic-acoustic hybrid act featuring Lisa Molinaro, violist/vocalist on the Decemberists' last tour, (also co-star of the "O Valencia video). Molinaro and drummer, Kevin O’Connor worked off each other (playing to a pre-recorded track) building on the dynamic sound that held on just long enough to leave you wanting more. Following Talkdemonic was Montreal’s somewhat skewed Shapes and Sizes. Their quirky art-rock instrumentation melted into a contagious elixir of pop mayhem reminiscent of Deerhoof.
Finally as the dark droning sounds of Yo La Tengo’s "Everyday" came over the PA system, you suddenly had that feeling that something great was about to go down. Brooklyn’s The National took the dimly lit stage to bring out their melodious and inspiring compositions. As singer Matt Berninger belted out the words “It went the dull and wicked ordinary way” in the song “Secret Meeting”, you could feel the energy they were about to release on this High Noon crowd. Throughout the night Berninger would proceed to lead the audience to the dark corners of his mind and then turn it around only to build on your emotions.
Aaron and Bryce Dessner's twin guitars created a beautifully unified layer which portrayed the backdrop for the other instruments and gave room for touring member Padma Newsome strings to infuse the songs with his energy. “Fake Empire” climaxed with Newsome taking the lead the lengthy solo.
Most of this show was comprised of the track lists from their two standout releases Alligator (2006) and Boxer (2007).
Drummer Bryan Devendorf stood out throughout the night, not only keeping everything in synch but actively thrusting the songs around. With his perfect precision and fluttering tom rhythms, the band belted out an amazing “Squalor Victoria" that brought almost everyone into the room to chant the lyrics from the chorus. By the time the band broke into “All the Wine” the crowd was encapsulated as Berninger assured the room “All safe and sound, I won't let the psychos around.”
As the band said their goodbyes to the Madison crowd and left the stage, the familiar horns of the “Gonna Fly Now"(Rocky Theme Song) was played over the PA. Somehow, hearing this song was a perfect closing for this remarkable performance (yes...we all get the Boxer reference). The National has gotten a great deal of press, become a media favorite and band’s live shows are not to be missed. Next time around you will probably be able to catch them at a much larger venue if you are lucky enough to get tickets.