Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Nat'l


The National is an old theater house that recent re-opened as a music venue. I was invited a short notice to go see Conor Oberst and Ben Kweller, and as my faithful reader will know, I need turn down an invitation to a random event. Besides, I'm completely out of touch with the local (and national) music scene.
Since none of us had been to the Nat'l before, we showed up shortly after the doors opened to make sure we didn't miss anything. And wasn't is lucky we did, or we wouldn't have been treated to Rig 1. My best guess would be to label them an Indie Rap Group, if that genre even exists. The front man reminded me of Dider Revol in Son of Ranbow. I wasn't totally convinced by an outfit that produces only a small portion of their music live (mostly Dider 'rapped' over a backing track with disorted fills from his guitarist and bassist), and his a cappella number was like being at some strange trippy poetry reading. At least they solved the question of whether I was going to drink or not. PBR on tap? Oh, why thank you...
They seem to have their game together at the National, because the wait between acts seemed refreshingly short. Before long, Ben Kweller came skipping on stage. At first I thought there had been some mistake. The voluminous dirty blonde curly hair; the denim vest; the cute as apple pie voice? There was no way this was a dude. But a dude he was, and proceeded to launch into a set of what I'm calling 'punk folk' for want of a better description. For me the star of the show was pedal steel, played by an older gentleman in thick black-rimmed glasses (my associates disagreed). Basically the whole experience was making me think I was in Greenville in 1973, but what the hey.
After Ben had warmed us up it was onto the main event. Advertised as Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, I was expecting something along the lines of Newgrass, but was way off!
Again, words fail to really describe the odd arrangement of musicians assembled on stage. Perhaps this is the truest use of the term Indie. There wasn't really a band on stage, rather several individuals playing in concert. The most individual of them all was Conor himself who fits neatly into the category of arrogant prick. Technical prowess was hard to come by from any member of the group, who seemed to be centered around Conor's poetic lyrical meanderings. Personally I much preferred when he let one of the other band members take a song.
Well, some of the tunes were likable enough, and three PBRs in I was ready to get my groove on, which brought disparaging remarks about the quality of English dancing from my acquaintances. Most of the rest of the crowd stood there with their arms crossed, but clearly they were enjoying themselves more than they were expressing, as the calls for an encore were energetic and appreciative.
The band returned after just enough time for a few rounds of shots chased with a beer. After a few more numbers indistinguishable from the rest of the set, Conor invited Ben out on stage, announcing that this was Ben's last date on the tour with them. Ben, who had clearly spent the entirety of the headliner's set with a bottle of Jim Beam, staggered on stage for a rendition of Kodachrome, which they made a good job of, actually. After this point I don't really remember a lot of the music. Ben and Conor were climbing all over the stage equipment, kicking over drinks and throwing mics around. Conor tried to skip rope with the microphone lead, but got it tangled, first on Ben's guitar, then on a mic stand, before finally making a full rotation and drawing disproportionate applause from a highly entertained audience.
So, in the end a good time was had by all. It was just what I needed as an antidote to a crap week. I'm not hurrying out to buy their latest records, but they sure know how to put on a show, so Kudos to Ben and Conor.

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