I’ve just returned home from an amazing tour with The National. We travelled through the UK, Belgium, France, Spain, and Portugal playing in huge arenas to sold-out crowds. Musically, it was a great experience for me since I was able to break out of my comfort zone and perform a broader range of duties – lots of vocals, keyboard work, percussion, and of course a healthy dose of trombone. Just a couple of months ago, I was on a similar routing for the end of the David Byrne/St. Vincent tour, so it was surreal to find myself back in the same cities again so soon under very different musical circumstances. What a privilege it is to be able to travel the world doing what you love.
Since forming in the late 90’s, The National’s status has continually risen over the years to the point where they are now performing in huge arenas. Needless to say, it was a thrill to participate in such massively attended shows, some of which exceeded 12,000 people. There were also many high level interactions with the press – live acoustic performances on BBC, interviews with Rolling Stone, etc. All of this is made more extraordinary when you consider that some of their first gigs in these towns were for audiences of 10 people.
As mentioned before, we were performing in huge sports arenas. These are cavernous concrete spaces with long reverb reflections. I was reminded of David Byrne’s latest book, “How Music Works”, in which he talks about how music is shaped in large part by the venue in which it is intended to be heard. Such reverberant spaces call for more drone-y sounds, fewer harmonic changes/modulations, and more deliberate rhythms. I think The National’s songs are perfect for these types of venues, and would be surprised if they weren’t thinking about this while writing songs for their latest record.
All of this was exciting, but the thing I like most about The National is that they are just good guys. Through it all, they’ve managed to stay grounded, calm under pressure, and incredibly savvy in their decision-making. Maybe it’s their all-American Midwest roots coming through, or the fact that they were well into adulthood with “real” jobs by the time the band came together, which kept everything in perspective. Whatever it is, it is a pleasure to work with such professionally-minded musicians, and I always come away feeling grateful for the experience.