The National's Anthems
Time was when Jaded Insider would go see the National play in front of 100 people at clubs whose names we don't even remember in Williamsburg. But times surely have changed for this Cincinnati-reared quintet, most recently seen opening for the Arcade Fire at Radio City Music Hall. Yesterday (May 30), they dented The Billboard 200 for the first time with their new Beggars Banquet album, "Boxer," and they sold out five shows at the Bowery Ballroom, the third of which we checked out last night.
What the band lacks in stage presence it makes up for in energy and emotion. The boys had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands after the gentle opener "Start a War," the first of many songs that opened up to a layered instrumental finish. Another early highlight was the throbbing "Baby We'll Be Fine," marked by frontman Matt Berninger's repeated yelps of "I'm so sorry for everything."
Berninger is an effective storyteller, and his brooding baritone gives the material a palpable sense of mood. But his limited vocal range prevents some songs from really achieving liftoff; "Ada" didn't go to another level until he stepped to the sidelines to allow the instrumentalists to dig into a gorgeous, piano-led groove.
The National has, however, gotten better at ratcheting up the volume, as evidenced by new single "Mistaken for Strangers," which out-Interpol's Interpol. And when Berninger's vocal volume couldn't quite rise above the rock, the audience did the job for him by bellowing the words to "Mr. November." During the encore, he jumped down onto the floor to finish "Abel" amid the throngs.
The set list was almost completely devoted to "Boxer" and 2005's "Alligator," although "90 Mile Waterwall" did appear from "Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers." What we wouldn't have given for "Cardinal Song," or even "All the Wine" from the "Cherry Tree" EP.
After the final Bowery show tomorrow, the National goes right out on the road for headlining dates through June 30. If you missed 'em here, don't fret: there's a free show on tap for Aug. 17 at the Big Apple's South Street Seaport.
The National played:
"Start a War"
"Baby We'll Be Fine"
"90 Mile Waterwall"
"The Geese of Beverly Road"
"Mistaken for Strangers"
"Daughters of The Soho Riots"
Bright Eyes, Big City
To be honest, we were going to Bright Eyes' show on Saturday so that we could finally see Gillian Welch live. We'd seen Conor & Co. once before in Glasgow, Scotland about four years ago at a half-full King Tut's, where the singer/songwriter frankly seemed crabby and disagreeable. Things have changed, obviously.
On the second night of his
3,239 seven night run at New York's Town Hall (all of which are sold out), we understand a lot better now why Conor Oberst is a star, and it's not just because thousands of teenage girls (and guys) have crushes on him.
First though, let us speak of our sparkling, happy souls after watching Welch and David Rawlings play a set. Her pure, clean country voice shone on covers of Radiohead's "Black Star" and Johnny/June's "Jackson," as they did on her outstanding originals "Revelator" and the Everly Brothers-inspired "I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll." We were also in awe of a song we've never heard before, with the lyrics "The love that's tearin' you down / is the love that will turn you around." Anybody who knows what it is will get a cookie.
To the shrieks of an all-ages crowd, Bright Eyes took to the stage over a dozen strong, including two cellists, woodwinds players, two percussionists (former Sleater-Kinney thumper Janet Weiss included!), and a very talented keyboardist. All were decked in white, with good reason: a projectionist perched on the balcony casting images of oil, water, crayons, food coloring and a Ouija board on the band and the back wall.
Oberst would sing sometimes solo, sometimes with just the orchestra, and sometimes with the opener-openers Oakley Hall, Welch, Rawlings and nearly everybody back stage... anyway you cut it, Oberst has vocals that resonates with emotion and lyrical weight. The band played a lot of cuts from the newest "Cassadega," including "Hot Knives" and our personal favorite "Four Winds" (thankfully, nobody threw any trash at them). There was also a touching, perky version of "First Day of My Life," which rarely ceases to give us goosebumps. What can we say, we're suckers.
Oberst invited friend Ben Kweller up as special guest (in a week where Norah Jones, Lou Reed and Jenny Lewis have had the same privilege) for a pair of Kweller tunes, including the face-blasting "The Rules." The pair also bantered about their favorite spots to drop acid, but the chatter didn't go over so well with the crowd. The night ended with a reduction to noise, throwing/breaking instruments, fallen drum kits, feedback, scronking and guitarists flailing on their backs on the floor. Between the theatrics and the sheer beauty of his songwriting, Conor Oberst could be a troll doll dressed in a tux and we'd still be in love.
We might be wrong, but we think M. Ward might be anothe special guest this week, as where Norah goes this summer, Ward is sure to follow. And, if history means anything, maybe My Morning Jacket's Jim James may show, too.
On a side note: we don't mean to be crabby and disagreeable but we just don't get Oakley Hall. This was the third time we've seen them open for somebody else and it just doesn't do anything for us. Oberst loudly exclaimed them to be the best band in New York, but we beg to differ. Quantity doesn't equal quality, they have a nice sound but no songs, and maybe there's a reason a band is always the opener but never the headliner. Phew! O.K., carry on.
Don't Go Changin'
Sometimes, Jaded Insider is just minding his own business but still can't help running into rock stars -- he's just good like that. On Monday (May 28), we had the pleasure of standing inches away from none other than Billy Joel while waiting for a table at a dockside restaurant in Sag Harbor, Long Island. The Piano Man asked the host when would be a good time to come back with his wife, and about 15 minutes later, after J.I. and his posse had already been seated, Joel and the Mrs. were promptly positioned at the table right next to us.
It took everything in our power to not start humming "Just the Way You Are" really loudly during the meal; we figured Billy wouldn't have appreciated that. He also probably wouldn't have appreciated the fact that one of J.I.'s lunchmates loves nothing more than to call the man "Silly Joel," in honor of his cheesy hits. "Silly" did seem to be enjoying his steak salad and Marlboro reds, though, and nobody came up to ask for an autograph or even say hi. In fact, the ladies behind us were more interested in the size of the chicken pot pie we'd ordered and shouting that they were having "steamers for desert."
Hours later, back in Manhattan on Avenue A, we crossed paths with Moby and a female friend, likely coming to or from practicing with the Bald One's new rock band (as-yet-unnamed). As we traversed Sixth Street, we spotted our hometown pal Joseph Arthur and his girlfriend getting in their car. Arthur, fresh off a North American tour in support of his new album, "Let's Just Be," told us he thinks he needs a vacation; his girlfriend agreed. He also told us about his new art gallery on Jay Street in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, which will go by the genius name of the Museum of Modern Arthur. Don't steal it.
Idol Chatter: Jordin Takes Home The Prize
Night two of the AI6 finale didn't quite end the season with a bang as we had hoped. Then again, by this point we should know better than to think things will live up to or exceed our expectations. Although it was pretty sweet to watch Green Day perform "Working Class Hero." Oh, and did we mention Jordin won? Thank god. But more on that in a bit.
After Seacrest's last over-dramatic "This...is 'American Idol'" introduction, the final two contestants kicked off the night by butchering our favorite childhood Beatles song, "I Saw Her Standing There." The singing was shaky, and the choreography was awkward, namely because Jordin is twice the size of Blake.
Gwen Stefani appeared via satellite to allegedly perform a "live" version of "Four in the Morning," which in actuality was the studio track laid over a video from her tour. We still heart her, though. A very angry Kelly Clarkson was live onstage to sing "Never Again," and all we can say is that she should never again attempt to wear those boots. Or a dress that short.
The Golden Idol awards were given out again this year to celebrate the season's biggest rejects. We still preferred this segment last year when an emo-looking Clay Aiken surprised his biggest fan to sing "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," and they turned off the kid's mic because he didn't know the words.
This time around the "Best Performance" award went to the crazy yellow bird lady, who, after barely making it up the steps, pummeled Seacrest and tried making out with him. "Bush baby" Jonathan and Kenneth won the "Best Buddies" category. They started talking about how the show brought them newfound fame. We wonder if it's gotten them laid yet.
J.I. always enjoys playing "holy crap I forgot he/she was ever in this competition" during the finale, which last night jogged our memory of Brandon Rogers and Stephanie Edwards. The rest of the top 12 gang returned, as well, and again, if these group performances are a preview of the tour, we're really in for sour disappointment.
In addition to past "Idol" winners Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard and the perpetually-ugly-jacket-wearing Taylor Hicks, a number of other artists such as Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Bebe and Cece Winans, Tony Bennett and Bette Midler stopped by for performances. Doug E Fresh accompanied Blake as he got the full-on white boy gangsta thing out of his system, and Joe Perry backed Sanjaya as he growled his way through "You Really Got Me."
A very monotone Clive Davis presented Carrie Underwood with an award for selling 80 billion albums, and the tribute to "Sgt. Pepper's" was pretty pitiful, except for Perry and Clarkson on the title track.
But all this star-studded hubbub, of course, led up to the big announcement -- our new "American Idol." Which, as we already noted, is Jordin. She really does have potential, and we foresee great things in her future. And, as for Blake, we look for this. It's been a hoot, Jaded Insider readers. Until we meet again in front of the TV...
Idol Chatter: Who Will Be Champ, And Who Will Be Chump?
Well, here we are. The "American Idol" finale. Tonight, Blake and Jordin went head to head at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. J.I. has thus far made it clear who we want to win, or, rather, who we don't want to win, and tonight solidified our feelings.
But the more we think about it, even if we liked Blake (and in his defense, we're sure he's a great guy) he would still have an doubtful career ahead of him. Just in terms of longevity and future record sales, Jordin has the most potential to be a big star. Sure, some people might consider Blake a good performer, and obviously right now they're buying into the beatboxing shtick. But over the long haul, who's really going to want to listen to multiple albums filled with that kind of crap?
Yet at the same time, Blake runs the risk of distancing true fans (all three of them, his dad included) if he decides to switch artistic direction and change his sound. So, basically, Blake's screwed, and few people will remember his name by next season (see also: that gray-haired dude who won last year).
Jordin, on the other hand, has Starbucks-promoted CD written all over her. She's got universal appeal (for one, she's biracial), an unbelievable voice for being only 17 and really has nowhere to go but up, lest she fall victim to late-adolescent drug-afflicted fame. But she's too innocent for that. We hope.
In any case, even the judges (minus the broken-nosed Paula "I never take sides" Abdul) agreed that Jordin was the winner tonight. She sang Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" and revisited "A Broken Wing," both of which showcased the sheer power of her voice.
Blake went right ahead and pissed us off by starting with the Randy Jackson-heralded 'most original song ever" Bon Jovi number he did a few weeks ago, followed by a not-so-terrible take on Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved."
The final song performed by both contestants was the future first single for whoever wins, and this year there was an "American Idol" songwriting competition to pick the song. We thought maybe, just maybe, that by outsourcing the songwriters, we'd wind up with something not cheesy and banal as in years past. But no. The winning song, "This Is My Now," was awful. Almost worse than "Do I Make You Proud." Just kidding; nothing will ever be more nauseating than that song.
Tomorrow, the new "Idol" is crowned. And Paula cries. Be there.