It was a pleasantly warm Los Angeles evening for indie rock heroes The National and indie pop-rock darlings Alvvays to play in front of a sold out crowd. The two bands, with a legion of fans, did what they do best – put on a cathartic show. While Alvvays hasn’t released anything since 2017’s sophomore LP Antisocialities, the Toronto five-piece outfit pulled from their two highly regarded full-lengths. The National played two-dozen tracks, from 2005’s Alligator to their most recent release, I Am Easy To Find.
Alvvays performed 13 songs (10 off Antisocialities), but their set was no in short supply of pure wonderment. Propelled by the sharp vocals of Molly Rankin (also on guitar) and the jangly pop aesthetics of keyboardist Kerri MacLellan, guitarist Alec O’Hanley, bassist Brian Murphy, and drummer Sheridan Riley, the tight-knit collective burst through the seams of poignant indie rock. With tracks like ‘In Undertow’ and ‘Dreams Tonite’ the feelings are raw and penetrating to the soul. Performed with elegance and sharp wit, Alvvays shone with songs of deep sentiment and insightful allure. It was also a strong turnout for the openers who went on sharply at 7:30pm.
Highlights included ‘Forget About Life’, the heavy and undeniably cathartic track that takes you on an emotional odyssey; it pushes emotive indie rock into new heights and the live performance is a great testament to that. ‘Not My Baby’ a personal favorite of mine, was a chill-inducing experience. The ethereal, being-set-free endeavor is filled with melancholic melodies and a deep reflectiveness of who you once were; it’s their finest song, but hearing it live felt deeply intimate and dynamic. Off their self-titled debut LP, they graced us with ‘Adult Diversion’, ‘Archie, Marry Me’ and ‘Next of Kin.’ These tracks divulge in pristine indie-pop driven by striking vocals and a healthy balance of sonic somberness and lyrical sweet relief.
The National have established themselves as indie-rock royalty. Brooding, self-assured, and dynamic, they have always been outsiders never needing to look in. While I’m not a fan of every song or every album, the songs I do like, which is a wide collection, provide me with feels unlike any other rock band in this day and age. The Ohio quintet is on tour supporting the release of this past spring’s I Am Easy To Find, their eighth studio album. There’s nothing all that new to say about The National at this point, but being the first time seeing them live, I can say it was an eye-opening experience. They write songs about life in the most interesting and complex ways. The National have always been recognized for the despondent lead vocals of Matt Berninger, whose enigmatic lyrics and artful indie rock panache they put on full display time and time again.
When The National came on stage they brought out and announced vocalists Kate Stables and Hannah Georgas, who ended up supplying backup vocals on many of the songs. They opened the night with a slew of tracks from their latest album including ‘Rylan’ and ‘Quiet Light’. There’s a subtle explosiveness to ‘Rylan’ on every level; the arrangements are intoxicating with emitting the essence of “cool.” On the lyrical side, it’s bold and daring, thought-provoking and valid. ‘Quiet Light’ is quite the opposite as it opens with the delicate touch of synths -it’s introspective, like most tracks here, but you can feel it a bit more. The live take of ‘Quiet Light’ delivered a different kind of cadence and feeling to absorb. Perhaps that’s what makes The National so enigmatic and engaging, the way they bring these songs to life and everything is left on stage. Throughout the night the crowd was engrossed with them, as if The National were some kind of lifesavers – and perhaps they are.
It was a grand evening for sure. The National played some of my favorite tunes from over their illustrious career, like ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, ‘Fake Empire’, ‘I Need My Girl’, ‘Day I Die’, ‘You Had Your Soul With You’, ‘Mr. November’, ‘Terrible Love’ and ‘About Today’. Berninger had so much energy and pizzazz throughout the night, he entertained the audience with witty banter, immersing himself into the pit, trading glasses with an audience member, and even climbing through the seats when performing ‘Day I Die’.
It was a commanding showcase of audacious songs, filled with heartache, enlightenment, and thinking about your own lane. In a world where poignant indie rock has been left by the wayside, tonight’s performance from The National and Alvvays is a comforting reminder that there’s still a place for this kind of music. In fact, we may still need it more than ever in these perplexing times.