The National makes vast Radio City Music Hall feel intimate at sold-out NY show

Radio City Music Hall is a big room, and The National makes music for intimate spaces. Yet the band expanded Wednesday night, figuratively and literally, to fill the 6,000-seat New York City venue with rich musical arrangements on songs that became somehow inclusively insular.

Assisted at first by a pair of horn players, the musicians seemed almost dwarfed by the massive proscenium for a song or two. It didn’t take long, though, for them to grow into it, Bryan Devendorf’s relentless drumming lifting the songs as singer Matt Berninger grew increasingly intense. He staggered around the stage at times between lyrics, as if shouldering the heavy weight of memory or melancholy or whatever it is he feels when he inhabits those songs in concert.

The rest of the band supplemented his rumbling baritone with vocal harmonies here and there as they blended guitar, piano and driving bass lines on songs from the band’s new album, “High Violet,” and a broad selection of older tunes.

Soon a string quartet joined The National, adding a sweetness of tone to “Squalor Victoria” as Berninger doubled over, howling the refrain. Annie Clark of St. Vincent joined them to sing harmony and play piano on a searing version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” and when Sufjan Stevens came on to sing wordless vocals with Clark on “Afraid of Everyone,” there were 14 people on stage creating a lush, full sound.

That number fluctuated from song to song, not least because Berninger embarked on various incursions into the crowd. He walked about halfway back in the orchestra section during “Abel,” climbing on a seat to sing as he faced the rest of the band on stage. He went one better during “Mr. November, the middle tune in a three-song encore, venturing up the sort of ledge running from the front edge of the stage to the first balcony section, which he climbed across, microphone cord trailing him the whole way, and walked down the other side.

By the end of the hour and 45 minute show, the band had conquered the vast expanse of Radio City Music Hall, and the soaring space felt for a few moments like one of the cozy clubs on the Lower East Side where the band got its start.

The Antlers opened the show with a set of atmospheric rock songs that sounded huge and imposing on the giant stage.

— Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by Keith Klenowski

Set list: “Mistaken for Strangers,” “Anyone’s Ghost,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Brainy,” “Secret Meeting,” “Slow Show,” “Squalor Victoria,” “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” “Afraid of Everyone,” “Little Faith,” “Available,” “Conversation 16,” “Apartment Story,” “Abel,” “Daughters of the Soho Riots,” “England,” “Fake Empire.” Encore: “Runaway,” “Mr. November,” “Terrible Love.”

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