The National Deliver the Show of the Year at the Santa Barbara Bowl: Review and Photos

Apr 27th, 2014 in Music


It’s been a banner concert season, capped off Friday night by our fourth show by The National in the last eight months.  We’ve written ceaselessly about this band, their Best Album of 2013 Trouble Will Find Me, and their live shows (which you can read about HERE and HERE).  So we won’t bore with another long praise-screed.  Suffice it to say that we believe them to be America’s best live band (and possibly the world’s best, due deference to Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Elbow and U2).  And that on Friday night they came to the hallowed Santa Barbara Bowl and measured up well against the greats (Marley, The Band, Mitchell, Radiohead, etc.) that have graced these grounds.

Portugal the Man opened and delivered a mesmerizing set of songs warranting much closer scrutiny by yours truly.  We were pleasantly surprised to see a good turnout for the band and most of those in attendance knowing every word to every song of the band’s (one minor complaint would be the leader’s constant mid-song gaze at the stage while tuning his guitar–doesn’t exactly propel things in a live setting)

And then it was time for The National.  And they came out and did what they always d0: lift the world’s weight and make all right again with their healing music.  We will confess that we had concerns following our viewing of the band last month at the Shrine Auditorium.  There, the cavernous venue and an opening film (Tom Berninger’s captivating documentary Mistaken For Strangers) combined to seemingly sap the life entirely from the crowd and partly from the band.  But Friday night was another matter all together.  Bands just can’t help themselves at the Santa Barbara Bowl, and The National continued that legacy.  And this Bowl crowd came ready to sing and sway.  We had been praying for rain all week, certain that the rare event would help to motivate the crowd and band.  And it was so when, while the band was sailing along during their set, the skies opened up (especially the downpour during Slow Show and amidst the oh-so-apropos England) and righteously baptized the proceedings.  From then on the audience gathered resolve with the rain, and there was no turning back, with all on their feet and firmly focused.  Song highlights from the show included Conversation 16, Afraid of Everyone, All the Wine, the rare Santa Clara (the song’s first performance in 2014), Bloodbuzz Ohio, England (as always, but particularly with this rain–a runner was definitely sent–if you haven’t seen, check out the video at the bottom of this post), and the now-standard, scintillating encore-trilogy of Mr. November, Terrible Love and the acoustic/acapella Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (as depicted above).  As he almost always does, singer Matt Berninger raged out into the crowd during the encore and walked the ancient walls to the crowd’s delight.  No band ends their shows as strongly as this one ’cause they’re “desperate to entertain.”  Nothing better.

Check out our photos (with two panoramics from Tad Wagner) below, along with the full setlist at bottom (you can see they were sadly forced to omit the rarely-performed City Middle)

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  • Donald Brubaker

    Undoubtedly the best show I’ve ever attended. That moment (during Slow Show, I believe) when the downpour began and the crowd went wild will go forever unrivaled on my list of favorite musical moments.


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