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The National Command Red Bull Sound Select Stage at Lollapalooza

The National at Lollapalooza
The National have long cemented their status as one of the tightest bands out there, and with frontman Matt Berninger’s trademark baritone vocals, they are truly unmistakable.

Saturday evening at Lollapalooza’s Red Bull Sound Select Stage, the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Ohio group furthered that reputation.

Wearing a black suit and dark sunglasses, Berninger walked out ready to expel some of his inner demons.  Three songs in came “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” in which he sings, “I have only two emotions, careful fear and dead devotion.  I can’t get the balance right.”

That much was clear.  Berninger is the perfect personification of those concerned characters that always seem to pop up in the National’s themes.  As he emoted the lyrics, Berninger would go into fits of rage and abhorrence that would cause him to bash the microphone against his head or throw the mic stand.

The National at LollapaloozaThere were even times when his baritone devolved into a simmering growl.  Amid taking pulls from a bottle of red wine throughout the set, Berninger was obviously bringing the darkness to life.

The National chose a few tracks from their 2013 album Trouble Will Find Me, with “Fake Empire,” “I Should Live in Salt” and the beautifully hypnotizing “Graceless” joining “Don’t Swallow the Cap.”

And the festival fans got to hear gems from their previous records, especially crowd favorites like 2010’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Afraid of Everyone.”

Brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner lead the charge of the National’s musical focus, with expert use of distortion to paint lush landscapes underneath Berninger’s vocal work.  And the bass work of Scott Devendorf and the drums of Bryan Devendorf help hold it all together. The National are also using a two-piece horn section in their live shows that lends brassy accoutrements.

As their show wound down, the National dedicated a song to headliner Mumford & Sons with their song “England” and closed with “Terrible Love.”  Both tracks also were from their 2010 album High Violet, which was critically acclaimed.

In between came “Mr. November,” a 2005 offering that sent Berninger into a fit that led him to wade several rows deep into the crowd while he sang.

The National might deal in difficult emotions – loneliness, despair, uncertainty – but it seems like those topics only push them to greater heights as performers.

Perhaps performing is the best therapy.

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