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In concert: The National at Constitution Hall

the nationalThe National played songs filled with cloaked tension at Constitution Hall on Sunday night. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Mark Jenkins

Matt Berninger, the National's bearded frontman, took Constitution Hall's stage Sunday night in a jacket, vest and tie. The jacket came off before the halfway mark of the almost two-hour concert, but the band never loosed its style. Cloaked tension is integral to the Brooklyn quintet's music, which flexes within an exquisitely tailored sound.

While Berninger's all-grown-up baritone seems ideal for lounge music, the National plays rock, strongly influenced by the more elegant varieties of British post-punk. Twin guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner emulated the signature tones of the Edge and Johnny Marr, and in its starker mode the group recalled Joy Division. For most of the show, however, the group was supplemented by two horn players and a keyboardist-violinist, yielding a lush sound that was closer to Tindersticks'.

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Many rock bands would struggle to sustain such elaborate arrangements in a large, nearly sold out hall - especially when its singer is throwing his microphone to the stage or wandering deep into the audience. (During "Mister November," Berninger even took a precarious circuit through the stage-left balconies.) Yet the musicians performed keenly, holding the midtempo melodies in place above drummer Bryan Devendorf's surprisingly speedy beats.

The evening's principal drawback was the material. For every song as focused as the driving "Bloodbuzz Ohio," there were two that sounded like arrangements in search of a hook. For true fans, each of the two-dozen number was probably a treat. But the National could have demonstrated its full range in roughly half the time.

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By David Malitz  |  June 7, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: The National  
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