The National Makes Melancholy Magic at Red Rocks

The National Makes Melancholy Magic at Red Rocks

October 14, 2018 Off By Denver Thread

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Photos by Michael McGrath, Story by Amy McGrath

“I’m trying but I’m graceless, don’t have a sunny side to face this… “

The music of The National has been one of the primary elements to the soundtrack of my 40’s; the time when my innocent children turned to angsty teenagers, when my friends got divorced, got sick, when white supremacy and women-hating crawled out of the shadows and into the seats of power in this country. The National’s poignant melancholy and insightful lyricism has offered countless hours of comfort and fortification against what feels like dark times for me and for so many.

My deep personal connection with the music of the band makes it virtually impossible for me to write an objective critical review of The National show at Red Rocks on Tuesday night. I can tell you, as a matter of fact, that Tuesday was a very cold night for early October. It didn’t rain exactly, rather, the show took place inside of a cloud that left the Red Rocks and its occupants bathed in a chilly damp mist. Sharon Van Etten put in a gutsy set of introspective and powerful songs to open the show.

“I took the medicine and I went missing, just let me hear your voice, just let me listen,” croons Matt Berninger’s unmistakably resonant baritone on “Graceless,” a standout track from The National’s 2013 album “Trouble will Find Me.” When the National hit the stage on Tuesday night, I went missing in favor of listening. For a few precious hours, the climate crisis, the shameful treatment of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, the repugnant orange authoritarian in the White House- all that ugly stuff melted away momentarily while the National and I “had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain.”

The set-list covered a wide range of material from the National’s 17-year span, but focused primarily on songs from the last three albums. 2017’s “Sleep Well Beast” feels especially suited to the current time, when the National, like so many of us, seem to be just trying to hang in there. “Until everything’s less insane, I’m mixing weed with wine,” chanted Berninger in “Walk it Back,” and the responsive Red Rocks crowd shared the sentiment.

Berninger is clearly aware of the emotional connection between the band and its fans and he spent a good chunk of Tuesday night trying to get in touch with the crowd, literally. Several times throughout the set he ventured off the stage, trailed by hundreds of feet of mic cord, meandering through the damp Red Rocks crowd- singing, howling, connecting.

Even the magical beauty of the National inside a cloud at one of the world’s most picturesque music venues can’t hold the real world at bay entirely, and it crept in profoundly during the National’s emotional encore performance of “Mr. November,” originally written about John Kerry’s candidacy in 2004. In Oct. 2018, Berninger has re-considered the lead character of his song “the new blue-blood, the great white hope, carried in the arms of cheerleaders” as another one of our country’s sons of privilege, newly sworn-in Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In the midst of the “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November,” chorus, Berninger fell to his knees howling “Beach Week! Beach Week,” a reference to Kavanaugh’s calendars from the mid-80’s, and evoking the angst that so many feel in the wake of the recent confirmation.

The National’s encore wrapped up with their traditional show closer, an acapella sing-along of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” that saw the entire cold and soggy Red Rocks crowd on its feet, singing in unison. Despite the cold fall night, The National once again found a way to offer comfort and connection in a world where those things are at a premium for so many.