The National Accidentally Play ‘Unplugged’

Berninger, clearly blacking out. Photo: Rebecca Smeyne

We couldn’t make out what exactly was in the red Dixie cup front man Matt Berninger sipped throughout last night’s sold-out National show at SummerStage, but whatever it was, he seemed to be enjoying it, and it most likely played a starring role in a few episodes of lyric bungling and acoustic malfunction that happened later on. But whether it was the near perfect weather, the whiffs of marijuana smoke combined with the scent of burgers on the grill, or the two fine opening bands — Montreal’s Plants and Animals and local faves Yeasayer — no one seemed to mind much; we even spotted a sun-kissed Julia Stiles dancing happily in tiny cutoffs on the VIP deck. All the moody hits were there in good form — “Start a War,” “Abel,” “Apartment Story” — but things got a little hairy toward the end of the band’s set. During the anthemic “Mr. November” (sample lyric: “I’m the new blue blood / I’m the great white hope”; in a canny tie-in, the merch table sold Obama benefit tees with the senator's face stamped above the title), a bit of closed-eye two-stepping led Berninger to get tangled in his mike wire, cutting the sound at the height of a crowd sing-along. In a flash, a tech dude sprinted across the stage with the intensity of a ball boy at Wimbledon, just in time to fix things for the booming final chorus: “I’m Mr. November / I won’t fuck us over / I won’t fuck us over / I’m Mr. November / I’m Mr. November.” All was again right with the world. —Carolyn Murnick