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God: Noah, in two days-time, I’m going to send a torrential flood brought forth by rain. It will drown everything out, so you need to build an ark. This ark will need to house every living animal and a couple of your friends. Also, the band The National will need room for their equipment.
Noah: God, I don’t understand. Who are the National?
God: Oh you don’t know? Bro, you gotta check ‘em out. They are perfect rain music. Here… take this Zune, it has all their albums.
Noah: Lord, what’s an album?
It may not have been reported exactly like that, but I think the above conversation gives credence to the experience I had on Sunday night when The National returned to the Kansas City Starlight Theater. The forecast called for rain, but not thunderstorms, so the risk was minimal. It just meant getting drenched to the bone.
KC Starlight is one of the best outdoor venues in the city, there are mostly perfect sight lines, the sound is usually top notch, and the massive screens keep you involved in the action. The back half of the venue is closed off for indie rock shows like this, keeping the intensity contained to a smaller area while still giving the full arena experience.
God: *sighs* Do you not read Soundblab dude? Do you have social media yet? I swear Noah, I’m starting to regret picking you to do this job if you don’t even have knowledge of the musical landscape.
Noah: You are a vengeful deity. Please, enlighten me.
The excerpt above I can’t validate at all, but it should come as no surprise that everyone and their grandmother is a fan of the dreamy indie pop of Alvvays, these days. The Canadian rock band was tapped to open for the National on a few dates in between both bands playing Austin City Limits. Riding high off their breakthrough sophomore LP Antisocialites from last year, Alvvays took the stage first amid a soft drizzle. Earlier this year, Alvvays sold out the Record Bar in KC, which I missed, so it was great to finally catch their live set.
Having spent a year touring constantly behind Antisocialites, the band managed to fill out the wide stage they were on with fog, illuminating starry lights, and the piercing vocals of lead singer Molly Rankin. Decked out in raincoats, the band dominated the ears of every concertgoer with hits like “Archie, Mary Me” from their 2014 self-titled debut album, as well as their most popular song “Dreams Tonite,” before finishing off the half-hour set with “Next of Kin” – a blistering shoegaze trip.
God: So you see Noah, even though indie rock is “indie,” it doesn’t always mean that the band has beards and thick-rimmed glasses, or only drink fair trade coffee. Women can be singers too.
God: Shut your hole, Noah. Alvvays rocks. If you don’t correct your ways, I’ll just have to ask Craig across the street from you to build this ark.
Noah: No! I’ll go get a copy of the new Alvvays album right away! Somehow…
If you haven’t by now guessed, even God’s a fan of indie rock – especially The National. Which is why She sent that same downpour that Noah got (sort of) on Sunday night. Things started out dry-ish for the most part during “Nobody Else Will Be There” which is what I expected would be the motto for the night, but the KC crowd was hot for The National and packed the theater with their ponchos and raincoats. The last time the Ohio band visited KC was in 2013 during their tour behind Trouble Will Find Me. The growing need for new music and touring from The National has only increased, so their arrival Sunday was met with non-stop cheering and screaming. Like, the whole time. Even when Matt Berninger drank from his water bottle, hundreds of people (mostly women) were screaming. Something about Berninger’s voice just does that to them.
The set contained all the right highlights from Sleep Well Beast, the critically acclaimed return album that came out last year, and the evening had none of the false starts from the previous night in Dallas. Instead, a barrage of emotions cascaded down on the crowd in the form of water droplets of doom from the sky. Head-to-toe drenched. Everyone stood in inches of water for almost two hours while The National pummeled us with the weather-appropriate ballads and rocks like “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” and “The Day I Die” from the new album, in addition to classics like “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Don’t Swallow the Cap.”
Noah: My Lord, this song by The National…. It’s… doing… something… to… me…
God: That’s called emotion Noah. What song is it?
Noah: I think it’s called “I Need My Girl?” I kinda wanna make out with my wife right now.
God: Go Noah. Make out with your wife. I have a 10 o’clock appointment anyway.
“I Need My Girl” is the most streamed song by The National on Spotify – almost 70 million streams. No other song in their catalog even comes close. It was a surprise so early in the set, but as I looked around at the sopping wet crowd, every couple embraced. Spider-Man and Mary Jane aren’t the only ones who can pull off emotional kisses in the rain, but it would be kind of awesome to have the National soundtrack the next movie for that purpose. After a while, Berninger made his way into the crowd as he usually does. A woman standing next to me made her way out to the aisle as he brushed by and threw her arms around him. He swooned with her, then threw her beer into the air while the rain came down harder. An amazing moment for her I’m sure. Her husband on the other hand, who stood next to me, was not very pleased.
The second half of the set featured some rather off-the-wall inclusions like “Wasp Nest” and “Hard to Find,” which kind of brought the energy down a tad, but things were back to normal for “Graceless” and “Fake Empire” to close out the main set. They returned a few minutes later to bust out a new song called “Light Years” which was debuted on this tour, before going into their standard closing encore set of “Mr. November,” “Terrible Love,” and a crowd-based rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.”
Very few other bands could pull off this level of intense atmospheric euphoria for a crowd. Personally, I’ve seen Fleet Foxes, The Antlers, and Nine Inch Nails in the rain, and while those acts definitely feel at home in that setting, The National took it one step further and put everyone on the stage for a night of damp wonderment.
Noah: God, you really know what you’re talking about when it comes to music. How did you get so good?
God: Noah, that’s a dumb question. I read Soundblab reviews.
Photos: Josh Decator