The National seems an unlikely band to land four albums in a row on the Billboard top five, given that their brooding indie rock examines the existential dread of the showered and blue-blazered. But part of the reason they've been able to become a world-conquering act is their tremendous live shows.
Onstage, the tension-building restraint of the National's albums is allowed to explode, making for shows that are introspective and personal, but also uniquely communal. On their current tour, behind the recently released I Am Easy to Find, the band incorporates the albums' duets with women vocalists with the help of touring members Hannah Georges and Kate Stables to beautiful effect.
During the National's sold-out show at McMenamins Edgefield on Aug. 30, frontman Matt Berninger was in full dad-rock Dionysus mode. He took two trips from the stage and into the audience, all the way past the soundboard. The second of Berninger's trips was during a career-spanning, five-song encore that began with an especially poignant "Not in Kansas"—which references punching Nazis—and ending with an a capella, acoustic and goose bump-inducing version of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks."
As Berninger reached with outstretched hands to the crowd singing back to him—like participants in a group music therapy session—it felt like a genuine moment of mass connection amid times most terrible. For the evening, that seemed like enough.