September 20, 2013

another uninnocent elegant fall :: The National at Red Rocks (9/17/13)


There is a skittish, soft part of me that was actually scared to go see The National under a full moon at Red Rocks on Tuesday night.

One of my most charming relational characteristics (#sarcasm) is the way I sometimes slither-sidestep away like a silvery fish from things that are too emotionally intense. Sometimes I dive in; lots of times I dive right in. But when it really, truly disarms me and strikes at my heart in a way I can’t defend against, I will go away and need to be coaxed to come back. I love The National — love them probably more than any other band right now, and have for the last seven years. Their nuanced, elegant, intelligent songwriting has soundtracked my brutally bloody / tragically doomed / completely beautiful first relationship after my divorce, and has been insidiously inside my head like a brain tapeworm ever since, needling and gnawing at nerves and receptors, helping me make sense of the mess. It’s so bizarre, in a way, to feel like you know someone simply because of their artistic output. It’s ridiculously beautiful, actually.

So I was scared to see them Tuesday for these reasons. I wanted to be there, so much, and I knew it might temporarily decimate me. I spent much of the concert quite content in my own untouchable zone; the huge gusts of fresh Indian-summer wind kept lifting my hair up off my neck, and drying the relentless water that just kept streaming down from my eyes. I vacillated between floating mental-miles away and being completely enmeshed in the magnificent and powerful performance of the songs I love. The experience of the music was so enhanced by the massive LED light screen flashing these perfect, complicated images behind them. The visual component was new in this elaborate presentation for all the times I have seen them, and it felt like an extraction of my thoughts and the band’s thoughts and all the dark dreams that populate our subconscious flashing up there for all to see. It was exquisite and disarming. I also kept tilting my head up to look at that bold moon rising over the red rocks with a shining corona around it for the first hour of its ascent.

My friend (and talented photographer) Brittney Bollay saw them play last night in Seattle, and she expressed how I feel, exactly, when I connect with the words of these songs:

“It’s like [Matt] crawls inside my head and my chest and finds all my thoughts and feelings. When I see him perform it’s like I inhabit him and he inhabits me, just for a little while. It’s this feeling of partial displacement and symbiosis. I’ve never had that experience with any other band.”

Take that video above of “About Today”: something as simple as the juxtaposition of the song (drums like a heartbeat keeping you awake) along with the visuals of those stark tree branches in winter + the thickly-billowing black smoke that won’t relent, and then — the blue note saturated darkness when he whispers the lines, “Hey, are you awake…” and that ridiculous crescendo crash of the song careening away — that’s it. I’m done for. I wish you could have been there.


I walked around backstage a bit tongue-tied and gobsmacked after the show, meeting The National deep in the veins of Red Rocks, and it was an out-of-body experience for the reasons that Brittney explains. As thoughtful and appreciative as I am of the complicated and sublime nature of their music, it can be next to impossible to sum that up in a way that means anything. I didn’t figure out what I really wanted to say until the next day driving home (which is regretful because, you know …none of the band members were there then), but in addition to the conversations we actually had, I wanted to say a version of this:

One time an author friend and I were talking, and he told me that the first time he picked up an Anne Tyler novel, he knew he wanted to be an author. Calling it “a straightforward chemical connection,” he explained to me that: “I think we have sockets in our backs, really complicated, like, thirty-five pin sockets, and sometimes something or somebody plugs right in and there’s no real explanation. Or rather, there is, but it would be memoir-length.”

I think about 35-pin sockets ALL the time because of this conversation, as it pertains to human relationships, my connections to art, music, foreign cities — everything around me (as some of my favorite friends can attest to). What I wanted to try to explain to Matt was that The National fits all 35 of my pins, and plugs right in.

They fit the pin that loves a carefully-crafted sentence which achingly frames words perfectly around that fleeting feeling that is gone before you even really notice that it’s fully there.

They fit the pin that loves a bit of dissonance in my pleasure, whether melodic or existential.

And the pin that wants to blissfully numb out my voraciously-moving brain with narcotic percussion.

Also the pin that (as I wrote about in my review of Trouble Will Find Me) likes to prod at that simultaneous engagement with the sentimental and the fatalistic, things that we traditionally think of as being at odds with each other.

It’s kind of terrifying to love any musicians as much as I find myself still loving this band. I am so grateful for that, for the fear and the 35 pins.





I Should Live in Salt
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Sea of Love
Afraid of Everyone
Conversation 16
Squalor Victoria
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Apartment Story
Abel (!!!)
Lucky You
(gahhhh, seriously?)
Slow Show
Pink Rabbits
About Today
Fake Empire

Mr. November
Terrible Love
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

(*that final encore was still as affecting as when I saw them do it in 2010; the mark of an incredible song)


ALL MY PICS FROM TUESDAY ARE OVER AT THE FUEL/FRIENDS FACEBOOK, including those ones with openers Frightened Rabbit and The Local Natives. Photo credit for the last picture above goes to Instagrammer @renae9502.

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  • Well said. Well said. I feel a connection to this band and their music that it’s hard to explain, but the 35 pins…wow. Tuesday was amazing and like you, I had a chance to meet the guys. I have never geeked so hard as I did on Tuesday night.

    Lindsay — September 20, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

  • Rad!

    Pete Brown — September 20, 2013 @ 3:01 pm

  • I happen to feel the same way about the National, but even if I did not, I would still love this because you write so beautifully about how music makes you feel. Very refreshing. Thank you.

    Carol Schneck Varner — September 20, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

  • Awesome write up for an awesome show. Acoustic Vanderlyle Encore is maybe the most beautiful thing I’ve seen at Red Rocks to date! They are a special, special band.

    @ABKitch — September 20, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

  • This was gorgeous. I’m so glad it was everything, and more. I really can’t afford to go to London to see them this time around, but perhaps a little time off will make the next one all the sweeter.

    last year's girl — September 22, 2013 @ 10:34 am

  • So well written. Well done, Heather. Parts of what you said was like you went into my brain and stole sentences and made them nicer like one of the pawn shop TV guys. (case and point). Trouble Will Find Me has more or less been playing on repeat for the last month. We love it, but I still won’t say it’s better than High Violet. It’s more like they only have one album, but they just reveal it in parts. In most cases that would be an insult, but this is the opposite.

    Matthew Z — September 30, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

  • Man that is quite the set. Must of been an awesome show to be at. Great write up by the way.

    Dax — October 3, 2013 @ 4:19 am

  • This was so beautiful to read. 35 pin sockets. What a wonderful way to describe the connection to this band. I feel the same way. Having just seen them two back-to-back days over ACL festival weekend, one night being a much longer set at a smaller venue, it’s taken me DAYS to recover – and I still haven’t fully. They are still rattling around in my brain in a very powerful way. Lovely. Thank you.

    P.S. I happened to find your site through a Centro-matic posting about Will Johnson’s Chapel sessions – another one of my absolute favorites, having attended college with many of them.

    Kirsten — October 8, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

  • This morning on a long drive I was trying to process what it was that explained my own deeply embedded chemical connection to a band, and then I remembered this post. All I could recall was something about the “socket” and “plugging in.” I used the search engine on your homepage until I could find it again. You always seem to have a way of expressing in your writing the words that I struggle to verbalize.

    Cheers to “the fear and the 35 pins” ~A

    PS – I hope you enjoyed the Water Liars album.

    Alyssa Vail — September 18, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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