The National returned to The Anthem recently for two sold-out shows promoting their newest record, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. The album, seemingly trying the split the middle between their older work and the band’s more electronic sound since 2019’s Sleep Well Beast, has met with divided opinion on the internet but I was eager to see if the material translated more effusively in a live setting.
And for the most part it did. For me, the drum-forward sounds of Boxer and Trouble Will Find Me are where the National set themselves apart so their decision to rely more on drum machine and electronic drum effects seems curious, but new songs like “New Order T-Shirt,” “Grease in Your Hair,” and “Tropic Morning News” sounded more full-bodied in person. They also took the opportunity to debut a brand new song called “Coat on a Hook,” which was very catchy and featured some impressive guitar interplay between brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner.
Stream First Two Pages of Frankenstein by The National on Spotify:
At The Anthem on May 24, lead singer Matt Berninger, looking dapper in a sharp suit jacket, worked the crowd full of “sad dads” with their Sorrow Squad shirts. He stormed out onto the speaker stack in the photo pit during “Eucalyptus” and masterfully whipped the crowd into a frenzy during rave ups like “Day I Die” but also mesmerized the masses so that you absolutely could have heard a pin drop during “Daughters of the Soho Riots.”
Overall the set was a monstrous 26 songs, lasting well over 2 hours. I particularly enjoyed the “Brainy,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Demons,” “Conversation 16,” and “Humiliation” stretch that hit all the right notes and was a great mix of old material. The overall pacing of the show was a bit lacking as the band played a large selection of their slower material. Hearing the aforementioned “Daughters of the Soho Riots” for the first time since 2018 was definitely a treat, but also including “Pink Rabbits”, “England”, “Light Years”, Terrible Love” and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” was a lot. I’m picking nits here and mostly bitter because the last night in Chicago they payed “Secret Meeting” *AND* “All The Wine.”
The National have released so many albums at this point that there’s no way for them to keep everyone happy with a single set, event one that’s 26 songs long. They did a great job mixing in songs from every era, including “Murder Me Rachel”, from 2003’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers.
Here are images of The National performing at The Anthem on May 24, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Kyle Gustafson.