After The National completed touring for their 2013 album Trouble Will Find Me, they took some time off for a few years (playing only a handful of live dates together in the meantime) while the members pursued their various side projects. The band returned this year with their seventh studio album Sleep Well Beast, a record which adds a more pronounced electronic element to their sound. The album has been well received, even getting a Grammy nomination in the alternative music album category. On Tuesday, the band came to The Anthem, where they played a sold-out show.
The performance started out a little rough, as singer Matt Berninger had several false starts on “Santa Clara” before abandoning the song completely (“We’ll get it back in Montreal,” he quipped, to the disappointment of the audience). For some performers, such problems could have set the tone for the entire night, but Berninger quickly got back into the groove with the new song “Nobody Else Will Be There” and remained there for the rest of the extensive set, the early issues left behind. Backed by the band’s two sibling pairs – Bryce Dessner on guitar and his brother Aaron Dessner switching between guitar and keyboard, and the rhythm section of Bryan Devendorf on drums and Scott Devendorf on bass – along with long-time touring collaborators Kyle Resnick and Ben Lanz on various instruments, Berninger crooned through the two-hour set with his distinctive baritone voice, pausing only for occasional political commentary such as dedicating “Walk It Back” to former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (“he makes Trump look like his idiot son”) and “Bloodbuzz Ohio” to Ohio Republican Senator Ron Portman.
The sestlist drew largely from the new album, including nine of the twelve songs from it, but there were plenty of the band’s classics sprinkled throughout the show as well. From the still fairly recent (2013) Trouble Will Find Me came “I Need My Girl,” and “This is the Last Time,” and the set looked all the way back to the band’s third album, 2005’s Alligator, for “The Geese of Beverly Road.” The band's subtle energy permeated most of the set, but it picked up noticeably toward the end with “Graceless,” “Carin at the Liquor Store,” “Day I Die,” and “Fake Empire.”
The band saved some of the biggest excitement for the encore, though, not only playing two of their biggest songs (“Mr. November” and “Terrible Love”), but also breaking out a couple of special treats for the fans. The first of these started the encore, an unreleased song called “Rylan” which the band had played live briefly back in 2011, that has only just come back into the set list recently. The second was a rare cover, closing the set, of The Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” which they dedicated to the current administration. With Berninger running out among the audience (making his way surprisingly far back in the room given the packed crowd and his corded microphone), it made for a lively ending to the evening.
Opening the show was This Is the Kit, the folk rock project of British musician Kate Stables. Backed by a full band, she played a set of songs drawn mostly from her recently released fourth album Moonshine Freeze. She’s already got her next DC date booked, headlining at DC9 in May.