On the heels of a triumphant performance at the Hollywood Bowl, the National brought their sophisticated and thoughtful brand of indie-rock to the Village Studios for KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.
The band (sans uber-talented drummer Bryan Devendorf) performed a stripped-down set featuring tracks from their recent standout album Sleep Well Beast; they also threw in a charged cover of the Ramones classic, “The KKK Took My Baby Away.”
Matt Berninger led the band from his perch in the middle of the studio, singing with his signature brooding conviction. The majority of the new album was written with his wife and explores a troubled relationship (which he maintains in the interview is only a writing exercise to peek into that world); his lyrics hit hard in this particular mix. The Dessner brothers floated between instruments (piano, guitars, keys, vocals), swelling the studio with melancholic and melodic sounds. Scott Devendorf steadied the rhythm on bass and longtime National touring/recording instrumentalists Ben Lanz and Kyle Resnick filled the rest of the space with beautiful and ornate horns and percussion. The session sounded pristine and sharp, with all instruments finding room to shine.
The band’s stature has grown considerably over their near-20 year run and Sleep Well Beast is their highest charting album to date; a well-deserved feat built on their song craftsmanship, expert musicianship, and Berninger’s (and his wife’s) intriguing and relatable lyrics.
With Bryan Devendorf sitting out this round, it allowed the arrangements of the new tracks to take on a different shape, and Anne Litt’s interview with Berninger and Aaron Dessner revealed great tidbits about recording at their new home studio, the current political climate, and their relationship with fans. Check out the full performance, below.
(All photos c/o: Larry Hirshowitz)