In their first post-Bonnaroo performance, The National brought their I Am Easy to Find tour to Atlanta. It was Father’s Day so no doubt plenty of middle aged white males were in attendance to enjoy dad rock’s finest. But before The National could open with “You Had Your Soul With You,” Courtney Barnett opened the show.
The twin bill does not seem like a natural fit at all. The National have largely built a following based on slow, plodding beauty while Barnett ranges from lazy to brash slack rock. However, the two artists will appear eleven times together over the next few weeks while making their way across America.
Donning a fairly new mullet, Barnett’s haircut must have reminded many dad’s of their high school days rocking to Motley Crue and Ratt but her music would not. Starting with “Avant Gardener” (which Setlist.fm says is the song she has played most live in her career), the set had great energy. At only 10 songs, she squeezed in hits like “City Looks Pretty” which has been drilled into my head thanks to its inclusion on the FIFA 19 soundtrack, “Need a Little Time,” “Everybody Here Hates You,” and closing with her brashest song “Pedestrian at Best.” Because the set started earlier than reported online, the venue looked half full for much of the set and it wasn’t clear if The National’s fans were enjoying the music but Barnett looked like she was having a lot of fun and she sounded great.
Upon entering the stage, The National’s Matt Berninger simple stated into the microphone “Courtney Barnett;” a cue for applause even though most of the crowd all ready was since the headlining band was going on. That would represent the majority of the stage banter for the night. Once the National get going, there is not a lot stopping them.
Rolling out of the station like a slow train, gradually gaining pace, The National’s performance was not only one of precision but of expert pacing. The first four songs they played all came from their month old record, I Am Easy to Find: the enchanting opening one-two punch of “You Had Your Soul With You” and “Quiet Light” followed by “The Pull of You” and “Hey Rosey.” While on the album Gail Ann Dorsey, Lisa Hannigan, and Sharon Van Etten provide the female counterpart to Matt Berninger’s baritone croon, in concert all female parts were played by Kate Stables of This Is the Kit fame.
Stables presence on stage was, for lack of a better term, stabilizing. While Berninger’s affectation and movements often seem far too busy for the song at hand, Stables casted a starker figure. Befit in a monochromatic dress and a top-knot, the most she moved was keeping time by hitting the back of her right hand with her left.
After the run of four new songs, it was time to return to the classics. Playing “Mistaken for Strangers” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” before returning to another run of songs from the new album. The National train then really started gaining speed. Beginning with “Sorrow” from High Violet, the band increased the speed until the back to back blows of “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” and “Graceless” before closing the set with “Fake Empire.” The encore featured two songs from I Am Easy to Find: the most popular track from the album, “Rylan” and they closed the set with “Light Years” while mixing in some fan favorites in between.
Some after show chattered revealed the typical complaint of “too much new stuff” but the beauty of the National’s performance could not be overlooked. Berninger and company have clearly mastered their craft and made the National’s live set into a finely tuned machine. I suggest catching the train when it hits a station near you.