The National Are Learning to Be Rock Stars

Lead singer Matt Berninger at a show last week.Photo: Timothy Cochrane / Retna Ltd.

It’s been a good week for faux-gloom-rockers the National. Their daily itinerary: Show up to Bowery Ballroom. Play music for sold-out crowd. Have chicks say you’re awesome all night afterward. Wake up. Repeat five times. The Brooklynites have come a long way in the last few years; where once they seemed to need booze to look comfortable onstage, now the booze only amplifies their natural self-confidence. And it’s not Pitchforkian ego-inflation giving them that confidence, but good old-fashioned audience love. Gushing front-rowers handed lead crooner Matt Berninger presents (a magazine — hey, it’s a start); later on, another adoring fan screamed at the top of her lungs, “You’re rock stars!” much to Berninger's delight. Dudes shouted requests and, like rock stars, the National cheerfully ignored them.

Even better than, say, Interpol, the National have nearly perfected the temperamental moody-guy sound, with Berninger’s baritone playing nicely with the dark crescendos that each song seems to take. The loud and guitar-heavy “Mr. November” saw Berninger end up in the audience, screaming the refrain, “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November.” “Lit Up” was also delivered with the same intensity, as was evident from the response: Either the audience was crazy for the song, or they were a bit lit up themselves. Toward the end, a European “we clap in rhythm” got under way, culminating with a sped-up version of “Fake Empire,” the lead single off their new album, Boxer. As Berninger and the band basked in their newfound rock-starness, it was easy to see they were having a very good week indeed. —Michael D. Ayers