REVIEW: The National at Summerfest

Sunday nights at Summerfest are often a tough sell. A 10:00 slot can often mean the crowds are going to be smaller, and many will be leaving early due to work the next day. However, the last stop of The National’s “I Am Easy To Find” tour was well received, and the band’s sound created an environment fit for a Sunday evening. The band definitely went out with a bang, with a 19-song set that lasted around 90 minutes straight through.

If there was an unspoken theme for the show, it seemed to be construction. The band’s songs often felt like a gradual build, reaching a crescendo by the chorus and coming back down. Similarly, it took some time for the appreciative Oasis crowd to really get into things, with the first real roar of the crowd coming for “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, song #5 in the set list. The track has received some steady airplay locally, making the response understandable.

While the crowd took some warming up, the energy coming off of the stage was delivered primarily from frontman Matt Berninger, who had a warmth about him the entire night. During much of the opening few numbers, Berninger was reserved and observant of the Milwaukee crowd. He humorously asked the crowd if they were also seeing “the flying chairs” as he watched the sky glider over the main drag of the grounds. Throughout the set, he would make leisurely make his way from one extreme end of the stage to the other, and ultimately out into the crowd before the shows was over. He also thanked the crew by name, sometimes while they were walking out to adjust gear, as part of a fitting send off to the tour.

Fittingly, the band’s new material was the showcase of the night. 10 of the 16 tracks on “I Am Easy To Find” made it into the set, surrounded by the band’s hits. Rather than saving the more popular tracks for last, they were sprinkled intermittently throughout the night, including “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” and “Day I Die”, which hit the middle of the set list, possibly aimed at those looking to beat the traffic out of the festival. The night ended on the somber “Terrible Love”, but it doubled as a curtain call for the band’s tour, with a warm, appreciative response from the Oasis.

The National have been a major player in indie rock overall for the better part of their 20-year career together. Sunday night’s show was mostly about their latest material, but it is indicative of what has made the band special to fans since their early releases. There was a genuine appreciation from Milwaukee for the band, and in turn, The National appreciated Milwaukee back.

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