Posts Tagged ‘The National’

In continuation of this live series, here’s a look at some performers that just fell short of utter perfection.

Chris Cornell

I first saw Chris Cornell in Hamilton in 2008, playing a show in support of his solo album, Carry On. I drove all the way from Whitby, and braved a heavy snow storm to get there. I went with a potential more-than-friend friend, to the Hamilton Convention Centre – a venue that has more of a high school gym feel, standing room only, but big enough that you didn’t have to rub sweaty elbows with anyone. I soon found out, the best thing about a Chris Cornell show is that you not only get his solo music, but also that of Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog. How can you beat that?

I also saw him play as part of Soundgarden’s reunion tour at Molson Amphitheatre, back in 2014. Although the company was great, and the music full of nostalgia, the far-away lawn seats made it difficult to fully get engaged in the show, and I left wanting more. Not to mention, the dramatic rainstorm put a damper on the experience.

My all-time fave show of his by far, was an acoustic solo show (ie just him and his guitar) at Massey Hall, which I attended solo. He interacted so much with the crowd, told stories, performed his heart out – including his epic version of “Billie Jean” and his version of “One” – a mash up of Metallica’s “One” lyrics and U2’s “One” music. His voice is was as much of an instrument as his guitar; so soulful, emotive and unique. It’s an effin’ shame we don’t get to experience him anymore. RIP.

Ben Harper

Ben Harper is a man of many talents. He plays multiple instruments, including a lap slide guitar; his music can be soft and poetic, but also angry and rock ‘n roll. He performs as a solo act, and also with different bands/musicians.

The first time I saw him was back in 2009 alongside The Relentless 7 at the Virgin Festival, at the Molson Amphitheatre. Although I appreciated the obvious talent and musicianship, I left underwhelmed. His sound with The Relentless 7 is a lot more funk-based and instrumental jamming, which is great; just not my preferred version of what I know Harper can do.

I got the opportunity to see him again in 2011, for a solo show at Sound Academy (now, Rebel; previously, the Docks,) on the Give ‘Til It’s Gone tour. I had balcony seats so it wasn’t as crowded as the general admission area, and he was phenomenal. He went on for 7 encores. Yes, 7. And probably could’ve kept on going. He’s such a force on stage, namely his powerful lyrics and sublime vocals. I left elated, and only wanting more and more.

By far, the best performance of his I saw was – similar to Chris Cornell – a solo acoustic show at Massey Hall, which I, once again, attended solo, back in 2012. It was just him and a line up of at least 10 different guitars, all of which he played with sheer perfection. He was very interactive with the audience, even serenading a couple seated in the front row with “Forever” when they told him they just got engaged. During the show. His music is easily in my top 5 favourites, and he’s such a dream to watch; it feels like he’s talking/singing directly to you, getting you through whatever you’re going through, and being a friend with whom you share all your thoughts. He’s also incredibly easy on the eyes. Swoon.

U2

I tallied it up, and I’ve seen U2 a total of 6 times live: 1997 Popmart tour, SkyDome; 2001 Elevation tour, Air Canada Centre; 2005 Vertigo tour, ACC; 2009 360 tour, SkyDome; 2015 Innocence + Experience tour, ACC; 2017 Joshua Tree tour, SkyDome. I’ve always attended with someone, either family or friends.

For the longest time, I was the most obsessive unapologetic U2 fan. Everything they did turned to gold, in my eyes. The first time I saw them, I was blown away. The sheer production of their show was like nothing I’d ever seen. Lights, lasers, lemon-shaped disco balls, you name it. And the caliber of the performance matched it perfectly, including Bono’s voice, which doesn’t age even in the slightest as he gets older. Not to mention, hearing/seeing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” live is a rite of passage for any music/U2 fan.

The 2015 show ended it for me though. None of their music after 2004 was any good, and got worse and worse with every album. This show was more about production, special effects and fancy stages. It was all so distracting from the performance itself, which seemed to hide behind all the grandiosity, and suffered as a result.

I got suckered into seeing their Joshua Tree tour – to witness the classics one last time – but that was the end of it for me. I can’t justify it anymore. Neither their live shows nor their music are anything like what they used to be, so I’ll give them a shout out for entertaining me for so many years.

The National

I was first introduced to The National back in the early 2000s. It was love at first listen. Since then, I’ve seen them perform a whopping 8 times: 2008 Boxer tour, Brooklyn Academy of Music; 2008 New Yorker Anniversary, Hammerstein Ballroom; 2009 High Violet tour, Kool Haus; 2010 High Violet tour, Massey Hall; 2011 High Violet tour, ACC; 2013 Trouble Will Find Me tour, NXNE Yonge-Dundas Square; 2014 Trouble Will Find Me tour, Massey Hall; 2017 Sleep Well Beast tour, Sony Centre. Either solo, with friends, or family. I’ll be honest though, mostly solo.

They put on an incredible show. Goosebumps for days. They outperform even themselves almost every time, and every track is that much better than the album version. I’ve even met lead singer Matt Berninger at the screening of their documentary, Mistaken for Strangers. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan. And to be honest, the quality of their music hasn’t wavered since that first album of theirs I heard. But the truth is, after seeing them so many times, their live show has become somewhat predictable.

The quasi a capella version of “Vanderlye Crybaby Geeks,” the amped-up punk-rock ‘n roll version of “Mr. November,” the adventurous nature of Berninger walking and singing through the crowd. I can understand as a first-time viewer, how incredible it is to see, so I totally get why they keep doing it.

A better and frankly more likely explanation is, I’ve become a concert snob. I need variety, perfection, emotion, and satisfaction. Don’t get me wrong, at the most recent show I saw of theirs, I was thoroughly entertained. But it just wasn’t enough. I want it to feel like I’m watching them for the first time again, and I don’t know if it will ever be that way again.

 

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It’s pretty certain most us would like to put 2017 behind us, and move forward to the (hopefully) better and brighter 2018. Musically speaking, 2017 was a decent year, so let’s celebrate all it had to offer (Note: once again, these are solely my opinions, and as usual I didn’t listen to every single record that was released this year.)

Best Rap Album: DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar

I’ll be honest: I didn’t fully get the “hype” behind Lamar until this album came out. It wins because Lamar’s lyrics are smart, honest, and he’s actually saying something. Plus, the album as a whole is a solid mix of rhymes, dope beats, and a whole lotta love.

Guiltiest Pleasure: “There’s Nothin’ Holding Me Back” by Shawn Mendes

He’s so plain and vanilla; boring and unoriginal. Yet this songs makes me dance, and I just can’t help it.

Worst Collaboration: “Something Just Like This” Coldplay + The Chainsmokers

Coldplay has been dead to me for some time now. The minute they shed everything that made them them, I cut the cord. The Chainsmokers were never on my good list, because there’s nothing good about them. This is a musical abomination on so many levels.

Best Collaboration – “I Know You” by Craig David feat. Bastille

David’s smooth vocals against Bastille’s rock operatic ones; David’s R&B sound, with Bastille’s rock-electronic vibe. Mash it all together and what you get is beautiful music. Not to mention: Craig David is back!

Best Latin Collaboration: “Mi Gente” by J Balvin, Willy William feat. Beyoncé

The original of this infectious track has over 1.4 billion views on YouTube alone. Add Queen Bey into the mix and it’s completely unstoppable.

Most Surprising Track: “Rockstar” Post Malone feat. 21 Savage

At first glance, Post Malone leaves nothing to be desired. That should teach me to judge a book by its cover. Although he screams drug addict trailer trash, with nasty grills and hair that hasn’t been washed in months, his music is actually pretty good (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)

Most Disappointing Track: “Walk on Water” by Eminem feat. Beyoncé

This wins this category because in spite of its huge potential, it falls flat. The content of Em’s flow is pretty good, but his delivery is lazy, slurry and sounds a little too much like Macklemore (sorry Em!) Bey’s chorus makes the track listenable, but otherwise, it’s a bit of a snoozefest (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)

Best Indie Track: “Nobody Else Will be There” by The National

It’s moody, dark, and puts your stomach in knots. Everything a National song is supposed to be.

Worst Indie Track: “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man

It’s so catchy that it very quickly becomes too catchy, which automatically makes it intolerable. It’s just trying too hard.

Best Club Track: “Unforgettable” by French Montana feat. Swae Lee

I dare you not to bust a move right now.

Best R&B Track: “Skywalker” by Miguel feat. Travis Scott

One of the best tracks off Miguel’s release War & Leisure, it shows off his velvety vocals, a sick beat, and also appeared on HBO’s smash hit Insecure.

Best New Artist: Amy Shark

Delicate vocals full of vulnerability and soul, Australia’s Shark is a singer-songwriter who has managed to dominate radio waves, in spite of the fact she’s only ever released a 6-track EP. Look out for her in 2018.

Worst New Artist: Cardi B

There are just so many things about Cardi B that, despite my best efforts, I just can’t.

Best Track from an Ex-Member of One Direction: “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles

This track wins mostly because the sound is just more to my liking. A little more rock ‘n roll, a little edgier. Niall’s offering was too cheesy boy band pop; Zayn’s was too over the top and all over the place.

Worst Track from an Ex-Member of One Direction: “Strip That Down” by Liam Payne feat. Quavo 

Payne just isn’t vocally strong enough to be a solo act. Everything about this screams someone who’s a little too keen on changing his image. Newsflash, Liam: it’s not working.

Best TV Soundtrack: Big Little Lies

It has everything from Leon Bridges, to Alabama Shakes, to Martha Wainwright. Oh, and this killer theme song.

Best Movie Soundtrack: Atomic Blonde

Question: what’s better than watching a stiletto-wearing Charlize Theron kick ass to the sound of new wave/rock/pop/punk 80s music? Answer: nothing.

Best Canadian Album: Everything Now by Arcade Fire

I will agree that Arcade Fire is definitely an acquired taste. But once you get into them, there’s something unique about the way they make music and put it all together, that sets them apart. This wasn’t their best album, but a solid one nonetheless.

Best Comeback: N.E.R.D.

It’s been 7 years since N.E.R.D. released an album, and 16 years (!) since their anthem “Rock Star” was released. This year’s No One Ever Really Dies is such a force, both musically and lyrically; there’s nothing out there that sounds anything like it. Bravo.

Worst Comeback: Theory of  a Deadman

Technically ToaD put out an album in 2014, but let’s be honest – it’s been at least 12 years since they released anything anyone heard, and, frankly, it should’ve stayed that way. They are, and have always been a poor man’s Nickelback.

Most Underrated Artist: Billie Eilish

Ms. Eilish released her debut EP, Don’t Smile at Me, this summer. At only 15 years old (!), she blew me away.

Most Overrated Artist: Ed Sheeran

Look, I know it’s easy to come down hard on Sheeran, but it’s just as hard not to. His music is formulaic, his vocals aren’t anything special, and he’s a ginger. Somehow, he’s heralded as the best of the best, and his smugness exacerbates with each accolade. I will never understand his appeal.

Best Cover Song: “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by London Grammar 

The key to a good cover song is to maintain the integrity of the song, while putting your own spin on it. London Grammar has done exactly this with The Verve’s 1997 classic. Grammar stripped it down, and made it more haunting. As far as covers go, it’s perfection. Not to mention, lead singer Hannah Reid kills it on vocals.

Worst Cover Song: “You Get What You Give” by Felix Cartal

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if you’re going to cover a song, make sure it’s a song that’s worth covering. The New Radicals’ original from 1998, wasn’t a good song. It was mediocre at best. Then completely changing the sound from pop/rock to techno is an even worse decision.

Best Live Show: The xx 

I’ve been to my fair share of concerts, and I can say without a doubt, The xx came out on top this year. Their music builds up so subtly, until it takes over and pulls at every emotion inside your body. The only option you have left is to dance off the emotional wreck you have become – it’s the best way to heal.

Worst Album: Reputation by Taylor Swift

Swift needs to take a chill pill. Her attempt at shedding her “good girl” image is so predictable, and so not working. No one believes her to be this villainous vixen (except maybe her millions of fans.) She tried to throw shade at the Kardashian-Wests, her music gets worse and worse with every album, and she needs to stop with the red lipstick.

Album of the Year: I See You by The xx

This album has the ability to make you feel things you never thought you could feel; it’ll make you hear things in ways you never thought possible; it’ll break your heart, sweep you off your feet; it’ll understand you like your best friend, and hurt you like your past love. All while making it impossible to resist dancing like no one’s watching.

Worst Song: “Take a Knee…My Ass” by Neal McCoy

This requires zero explanation.

Song of the Year: “Performance” by The xx

The first time I heard this song, it permeated through my skin, invaded my soul and sunk my heart; time actually stopped. The story it tells is one that resonates with us all, and its honesty is so real, it hurts. In a good way.

Brooklyn-based The National has been around since all the way back in 2001, but I didn’t quite jump on their bandwagon until 2007’s epic Boxer. I can’t remember if it was a friend or boy of interest at the time that swayed me on to them, but whoever it was, I am forever indebted; I’ve been enamored ever since. Matt Berninger is on vocals; brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitar; brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf, on guitar and drums, respectively. If you haven’t done so yet, here’s why should give them a shot.

 

The sound: the best way to describe The National’s sound, is emotive. They’re able to masterfully evoke the sentiments of each track, pulling you deeper and deeper into their thoughtful realm. They don’t commit to any one sound exclusively, but rather to several equally. They sometimes slam the drums, and crush guitar riffs, while Berninger loses his mind on the mic. Other times, the noise is faint, the vocals barely audible, but everything is perfectly timed, building up and up with each line. You never know exactly what you’re going to get with them, which urges you to keep exploring.

 

The lyrics: there’s no hiding that The National puts out some of the most thought-provoking words out there, and with each listen, you gain more insight into their minds. They’re executed so perfectly, so delicately, ensuring every lyric has its moment to shine. Each time, their soft claws sink deeper and deeper into your soul until there’s nowhere else for them to go. You get hooked, addicted to that intense feeling. They get you to exercise that part of your brain your day-to-day life ignores. That part of your brain, that’s full of questions; that’s confused about why things are the way they are, that is full of all your vulnerabilities. They make you wonder. As heavy as that sounds, it’s also incredibly liberating.

 

The vocals: Berninger’s voice can be deep, quiet and heavy, creating a sound that reverberates in your ears, long after the music has stopped. It’s the voice we all use when we talk to ourselves, while trying to sort out everything in our minds. Berninger’s voice can also be louder and more musical, full of emotion and passion, and all the reactions to what he’s feeling. It’s the voice we use when we’re done thinking about everything and just need to let it all out. This back and forth between vocal stylings makes the lyrics and the songs all that much more relatable because we’ve all been there, we’ve all felt that.

 

The albums: when you listen to any of The National’s albums, you really have to listen to them. The albums reveal themselves more and more with each repetition, and the only way to truly understand any of them, is to pay attention. Their live shows take all of this, and heighten it even further. No song is like any other, no album is like any other. Go on their journey with them: they’ll lift you up, bring you down, and make you feel all over, but they’ll never let you go. Once you get them, you won’t be able to forget them.