I didn’t even check to see if any bands were playing in Hawaii while I was there, because as my cousin Johnny who lives there knows too well, no bands ever play there. So it was a bit of a surprise to find out that The National was going to be playing a relatively small (for them) venue my second night in town. I like National, I think Matt Berninger’s voice is quite swoonworthy and their songs are always unobjectionably listenable, but I’m cheap and I stopped seeing them long before they were selling out five nights straight at the Chicago Theater. In fact I enjoy telling people that the first time I saw the National they were the opening opening band for the Pernice Brothers at a small venue in Milwaukee that wasn’t even half full. When I bought Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers after the show, I bought it from Berninger himself. Still, I was on vacation, so I didn’t even blink when the tickets were $40, I was going to see a band in Honolulu! And not one with ukuleles and grass skirts.
After Sad Songs I didn’t even buy another record until High Violet made everyone’s top ten lists a few years back. I liked it of course, but to me it all starts to sound the same after a while. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good same, but the same nonetheless. I did recognize a few of the songs tonight, so I have to guess that they came from that record. It was a high energy show, flashing lights on the screen behind them illuminated a large band which included horns. Berninger always looks a little uncomfortable on stage, he paces nonstop, keeping his head down while he does so, seldom making eye contact with anyone, but growling out lyrics with conviction.
The venue was cool enough, a big box of a room with a capacity somewhere under a thousand. They seemed to be encouraging the “bottle service” at the back of the room, which unfortunately led to more socializing than paying attention to the band. In fact, it seemed like much of the crowd in the back half of the room was just there because it was something to do. Like I said, bands don’t play Honolulu very often. The chatter at times overwhelmed the band, and I had to concentrate to tune out the talking. This was especially annoying during the encore when they did an unplugged number at the edge of the stage. I wanted to shush everyone in the room, pay attention! After all, bands don’t play Honolulu very often.