concert review: The National, Colin Stetson @ Kool Haus (Toronto, ONtario) - May 21, 2009
The National @ Kool Haus: photo by Michael Ligon
Stepping out from their mini-hiatus The National stopped in at Kool Haus to kick off their summer tour stint, an honour for Torontonians in some ways although the polish of previous shows had somewhat been lost. Ok, that's all a matter of personal opinion but I'm sticking to it.
From the first notes of opener Colin Stetson's experimental saxophone sonic excursions I wasn't entirely confident. Granted while there was an impressiveness in his sheer performance stamina, the music was avant-garde enough that I'd imagined it'd gone over most people's heads or at least in one ear and out the other, if the chatty crowd was an indication. On closer liste, there was a structure to his instrumental concoctions, rapid-fire mantra-like at times, or with an infusion of groove/percussive elements at others. Surprisingly, he did ultimately connect with at least those who were listening, prompting a favourable response from the crowd with each song. As an opener, he wasn't the best choice, but neither was he without merit. I hope he doesn't smoke, because I couldn't imagine him having such a high-level of cardiovascular endurance if he did. If his own set wasn't enough, he also joined The National as part of their 3-member horn section.
Its understandable The National had to take a breather from touring 8 months(?) ago, having been on the road for months at the time touring their most recent album "Boxer", having only taken the time since then to play a few charity shows, especially the Dessner-brothers curated "Dark Was The Night" AIDS fundraiser indie-rock compilation. While Toronto had the pleasure of being first to see The National return to playing live after their mini hiatus, it was understandbly expected that they'd come off a little rusty. Things weren't being helped that the band had stepped up to playing Kool Haus after playing relatively more intimate(and ultimately better) shows at The Opera House in June 2007 and Phoenix Concert Theatre in October 2007 over the last several years. Even with my stage-left, front row spot, I could tell the boys were off. A few forgotten lyrics(during 'Fake Empire'), a dropped mic stand or two, and the less than perfect venue acoustics aside, while the musicianship was overall tight, it didn't have the oomph they'd displayed in past performances. Other than Matt and Scott who displayed some energy, the rest of the membership seemed too sedate although during more fierce numbers like 'Mr. November' things did pick up. I was particularly disappointed in the drumming - Bryan just wasn’t hitting the drums hard enough for my liking (for example - the louder drum parts during 'Fake Empire' didn't have the impact I'd hope for from the record). These are a few specifics although in general my slight disappointment was really only a gutteral reaction. Maybe it was just my vantage point(front row, left side of the stage) that the crowd seemed to be lacking any consistent enthusiasm(I'm curious how the crowd was at the back - anyone?). Perhaps, my slight disappointment was due to my more favourable memories of their past shows - my first time seeing them live was at The Opera House a few years ago and it was a stunning show. Good on you if it was your first time seeing them(at Kool Haus last week) and you absolutely adored it.
Photos: The National, Colin Stetson @ Kool Haus (May 21, 2009)
More reviews/photos of the show at Chromewaves, It's Not The Band I Hate..., and chartattack.
MySpace: Colin Stetson
MySpace: The National
Sorry, for the lack of updates, but I'm off to Barcelona, Spain today and'll be returning June 5. Looking forward to Primavera Sound Festival from May 28-30 and Wilco at L'Auditori on June 4. Yes, I do plan on exploring the city itself, taking photos, eating some good meals, and hopefully meet good people. Perhaps, I'll squeeze in some train travel to some nearby cities while I'm there. Ultimately, it'll be a good reboot. I do plan on hitting up internet access while I'm there and I'll try posting a few words or photos whenever I can. Otherwise, if anyone has recommendations for things I should check out while I'm there, please leave a comment. Later.