The National sell out two nights at The Met Philly - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Indie rock veterans The National played two high-energy shows at The Met this week, and Philly showed up. Following the release of this year’s characteristically moody First Two Pages of Frankenstein, the band set out on tour that will take them to Osheaga Festival in Montreal in a few short days, then sees them headline their own festival, The National’s Homecoming Cincinnati in September with Patti Smith, Pavement, Bartees Strange, Weyes Blood, Julia Jacklin, and more. In this exciting era, The National proved that after two decades of indie notoriety, they’re not slowing down. 

A new fun thing The Met is doing: hosting a kind of block party outside the venue before big shows. And both nights before The National performed, their crowd enjoyed snacks and brews just outside the venue, which gave me a curious look at who would be in attendance at the sold out show. To use a worn-out phrase, I’d say it’s safe to call The National “dad-rock” these days, though there was some representation from folks who I’d assume discovered the band in high school, and have grown up with The National’s dark, cinematic soundscapes. It’s interesting to see just how influential this band has been on the trajectory of indie rock and pop music. Their brand of moody, deep production led by Berninger’s baritone storytelling with an often bleak perspective has saturated the current market, both by indirect influence and direct, like how The National themselves have championed artists like Bon Iver, Phoebe Bridgers, and even Taylor Swift in the 2010s and beyond.

Opening for The National was the New Zealand group The Beths. Their bright and pastel-colored sound was a sunny and contrasting beginning to the night. The group, who made their debut in 2018 on Carpark Records, has had a decorated journey opening for Death Cab for Cutie and now The National, and fun fact, were featured on Obama’s Summer Playlist 2023. They’re definitely a group to watch, and will be endearing to a wide swatch of the thoughtful, indie rock crowd. 

The Beths | photo by Paige Walter for WXPN

Then it was The National’s turn. Frontperson Matt Berninger led the ensemble out from the wings of the stage, riling up the pit in front of the stage. Throughout the show, he periodically lunged over the stage or gestured to the balcony seating, making full use of the wide theater to give a rousing performance. And the showmanship didn’t stop there; The National and team had fixed an impressive lighting rig and graphics display on the wall of the theater behind them. The dynamics and production of the performance reminded me of a show that could’ve fit a much larger, perhaps stadium-sized arena. But I think the audience would all agree we’d prefer to be in the opulent theater that is The Met. 

The National | photo by Paige Walter for WXPN

The setlist was a thrilling mix of new and old, with some of the leading songs from this year’s First Two Pages including “Once Upon A Poolside” which features Sufjan Stevens on the recording, “Eucalyptus,” “New Order T-Shirt” (which got performed Tuesday but not Wednesday) and “Tropic Morning News,” then dove deep for some hits from records a good ten years previous. It really wouldn’t be a concert by The National if they didn’t play “Bloodbuzz Ohio” from 2010’s High Violet, or “Fake Empire” from 2007’s Boxer, and I was also pleased to hear so many tunes from 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me. Every song was performed with intensity, not surprising from this serious band, but was entertaining on a grand scale. Brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner flanked Berninger on either side, and traded rollicking solos on guitar and bass. And a duo of horn players supported the band’s standard rock instrumentation with melodic flare.

The National | photo by Paige Walter for WXPN

A fond closing thought: The National sold out two shows at the 3,500 capacity Met in 2023, but back in 2001, played Old City’s The Khyber, an independent club known for hosting emerging acts. And a room where I’ve seen as few as 15 fans in the crowd. The National is therefore a strong reminder that being a fan, and a loyal one through the years, is a powerful thing. And a rewarding one, when the payoff is as good as waiting since high school to see a band realize its vision to full capacity.

The National
The Met Philly
  • Once Upon A Poolside
  • Eucalyptus
  • Tropic Morning News
  • New Order T-Shirt
  • Don't Swallow the Cap
  • Bloodbuzz Ohio
  • Demons
  • The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
  • I Need My Girl
  • Conversation 16
  • Humiliation
  • Murder Me Rachael
  • Wasp Nest
  • Alien
  • Grease In Your Hair
  • Space Invader (Threaded Gold)
  • Day I Die
  • Pink Rabbits
  • England
  • Graceless
  • Fake Empire
  • Weird Goodbyes
  • Mr. November
  • Terrible Love
  • About Today
  • Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
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