Flip through enough of those star magazines at the grocery store, and you’ll start to believe that plucky, hyper-confident teenagers rule the world (Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber.) Thankfully, there are musicians like Matt Berninger – frontman for Brooklyn band The National – to remind us that it’s OK to be a Sad Bastard 30-something still trying to figure things out. “Conversation 16” is just one example of what drew me to their album High Violet: the shimmering guitars and breezy backup vocals juxtaposed with brooding, oddball lyrics (“I was afraid I’d eat your brains/’cause I’m evil”) had me hooked.
In an interview with Under the Radar earlier this year, Berninger talked about his unease as a live performer, likening the experience to being dunked in freezing water. “It takes a good hour to warm up to the point where you feel like you’re not going to drown”, he said. With that in mind, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I caught The National’s show in Vancouver this fall. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that Berninger was – yes – a little awkward in that enigmatic, Michael Stipe sort of way… but also capable of cracking jokes in between songs, adding a bit of levity to an otherwise intense set. And on a chilly September evening, the enveloping sounds of “Conversation 16” felt just right.