The National, Baby Dayliner, Mobius Band

The National, Baby Dayliner, Mobius Band

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Perhaps someone forgot to tell members of the National that they don’t always have to try so hard. That, like a string on a guitar, any performance will eventually snap after being wound tighter and tighter. But maybe the band is used to the snap after years of touring, because they seem to do it once every other song or so. The trying so hard is second nature now. And it’s only getting better, proved by the evening’s show with Mobius Band and Baby Dayliner.

Mobius Band must’ve picked the short straw that slightly brisk evening as they had the dreaded opening spot. It didn’t seem to sway the trio from performing well enough to conjure up a pied piper effect, wooing everyone that walked in to head towards the front of the stage to listen to their brand of soulful pop with electronic sensibilities. Playing a good portion of their songs off of last year’s break-out album, The Loving Sounds of Static, as well as some new ones, Mobius Band played with the calmness and composure of veteran ensemble. The vocals and sampler duties were shared by Peter Sax and Ben Sterling, while drummer Noam Shatz balanced the melancholy with the some up-tempo and powerful cadence. “Detach” and “Twilight” were a couple songs that proselytized listeners to hit the merch booth and help the guys buy some gas. Any other night Mobius Band could headline, but that’s just the luck of the draw.

Ethan Marunas, the one man Baby Dayliner stage show, was nothing spectacular. The Baby Dayliner performance was just some awe inspiring, mid-80s synth-pop with a melodic dance twist and a hint of European post-punk. It was like watching Dancing with the Stars scrambled with American Idol. Yeah, it was just your run-of-the-mill lounge entertainment. Except for the fact that Marunas, a New York native, is so lyrically and literately composed, and musically educated as well as inclined, that you don’t feel so bad when you find yourself dancing and wanting to memorize the genius he sings with his hollow yet thick voice. The tempo of each song leads you from beginning to end wide-eyed and on the edge of your seat in wonderment. Marunas’ performance was sweetly persuasive. And there is no one on the stage to love but Ethan.

The National’s set was peppered with new tracks, but otherwise consisted mostly of songs from Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers and its critically-acclaimed follow-up Alligator. The two-guitar attack of brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessener built slower songs like “The Geese of Beverly Road” to frenzied climaxes, and the propulsive rhythm section drove opener “Lit Up” and “Abel.” The addition of a violinist/keyboardist fleshed out the band’s sound and added to the explosiveness of the extended rock-out sections, but the main focus was on singer Matt Berninger. Between songs, he’s quiet and unassuming, softly thanking the crowd or making a quiet joke, like claiming the band couldn’t play “Karen” because they only play songs about girls he’s broken up with, not the ones that are still around. The story’s different when the music kicks in. Berninger’s baritone echoes off walls as he sings and yelps, eyes pointed up to God, as if no one else is in the room. Between verses, he moves somewhere in between a shimmy and herky-jerky, eyes squeezed tight, microphone cord straining in tight coils around his arm as he claps his hands or taps the mic against his head.

At the end of the main set, Berninger headed backstage while the rest of the band careened towards the end [ed. note– My guess is that he has to go backstage and softly sob for a minute before returning for the encore, just to keep the emotion from bubbling over.] Following an encore so short that they probably didn’t have time to sit down in the green room, the band returned to play a few more songs, closing with “Mr. November” and then unassumedly shuffling off into the night.

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