31 Days of Music: “Conversation 16”

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.

5 thoughts on “31 Days of Music: “Conversation 16””

  1. For my money this is the best band of the 2000’s. I saw their set at Lollapalooza in Chicago this year and it was mind-blowingly good. Berninger has a habit of wandering into and throughout the crowd during some of their songs, usually the f-bomb laden “Mr. November.” At Lolla he carefull walked along a fence adjacent to the stage, stopping when he got up to a little girl who was sitting on her father’s shoulders. It just happened to be at the moment of the chorus, which repeats the line “I won’t fuck us over” five or six times. He leaned over a few inches from her face and screamed the part, as he usually does, substituting “mess” for the offending verbiage. It was kind of totally cute.

  2. Pat – that’s a great story! I wonder if there’s a clip of that show on You Tube somewhere. I’ll have to take a peek.

    Sammy – it’s true, there are too many good shows in Vancouver to keep track of. I’d go broke if I bought tickets to everything that caught my eye!

  3. The National are an amazing band. I saw them and Modest Mouse open up for REM in Vancouver a couple years… what a fantastic show.

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