This Friday, The National releases its seventh album, Sleep Well Beast, a torrent of atmospheric soundscaping, propulsive rhythm and existential lyrical ennui from frontman Matt Berninger, who breaks down the dissolution of a relationship over a dozen tracks.
It’s a powerful set of songs, arguably their best work since 2007’s Boxer, and the band performed it live last night in its entirety at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer for NPR Music’s First Listen Live series.
The music, already moving and electric, comes alive in a totally different when performed the band — Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitars and keys, Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and guitar, with contributions form Ben Lanz on trombone and keyboard, Kyle Resnick on trumpet and keys. In addition, Arone Dyer of Buke and Gase (who was performing across town at Johnny Brenda’s) joining the band to sing sublime backups on “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” and “The Dark Side of the Gym.”
Berninger’s delivery is dynamic, alternating between a reserved, motionless cool and an in-your-face howl — the latter surfacing on the mid-set standout “Turtleneck” — and the band’s playing dials down the dreamscape and notches up the pulsing urgency. After the record wrapped up, the band encored with four selections from Boxer, and you can listen to the performance in its entirety here, via NPR Music.
The band returns to Philadelphia on December 4th to headline The Kimmel Center, but the show is sold out; Sleep Well Beast is out this Friday, and can be preordered here. Check out photos from last night’s show below.
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