With The National and Frightened Rabbit sharing the stage, I knew it would be a night for feeling all the feels. And it was. But not quite in the way I expected.
After getting soaked between the parking garage and the Paramount, we enjoyed a warming Glenlivet in the lobby. When the Daddy and I entered the auditorium, our conversation was interrupted by security. We were not allowed to stand around before the show. Everyone must sit on the floor like bank robbery hostages or prisoners of war. I was feeling the righteous anger then.
As the lights dimmed, I found a great spot 4 rows back from the stage. Then a group of incredibly tall boys pushed in front of me. I could barely see a sliver of stage in strobe effect between their elbows as they danced. Feeling the peeved feeling then.
Oh, but the shiny, rainbow oilslick of Frightened Rabbit’s poisoned poetry, with just enough banter from Scott Hutchison and all my favorite songs on the setlist. The sound was pristine; so clear you could hear all the tiny little fills and didn’t even need earplugs. But there was a hole in the middle of it, and the great builds never seemed to climax. Finally a roadie gave Hutchinson a new cable – I think his guitar had been missing from the mix through the whole set. It left me feeling a little confused, but still so much in love, like the hot date that ends with a chaste peck on the cheek. I didn’t expect chaste from Frightened Rabbits.
The tall guys left and I stepped into the open space, only to be scolded back. Their girlfriends were saving their imaginary seats. On the floor. In front of the stage. In GA. Between bands. A woman standing nearby jumped in, “Well you guys actually pushed in front of us to take those spots, yourselves,” but the irony was wasted. As the lights dimmed I was starting to feel –
Bam! Someone plowed into me from behind. With a feeling of cognitive dissonance my body braced for a mosh pit and my mind said, “But it’s The National!” Drunk girls who had plowed forward through the crowds when the music started were doing jitterbug twirls and making big palmer’s kiss arm circles, oblivious to the irritated scowls all around.
I was feeling trapped between the anal and the obnoxious, so I stepped backwards, essentially switching places with the drunk girls. They hit it off with the tall boys as well as I expected. “You are a bad fan,” admonished one of the uptight place-holders. “Did you guys know this is like, a legitimate concert?” retorted the dancing drunk girl. Pretty soon it really did look like a mosh pit as they pushed and shoved, putting on a show that distracted from the one on stage.
And that one was such a good show. Berninger told inappropriate jokes and paced the stage. The sound was still clean, but now it was louder and fuller. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” obliterated everything but the music, and then the crowd shifted during “Squalor Victoria.” I got a clear view: guitarists playing in mirror image while Berninger let loose desperate, hoarse screams. Oh yes, feeling the National.
You know how the air changes when someone gets hit? Even if you don’t hear the pop when a fist makes contact, even if you don’t see the body recoil, you suddenly feel a sharp, stinging quality in the air. I didn’t see the drunk girl’s ineffectual punch to the tall boy’s face, but I felt it.
Normally, I’m quick to move away from altercations. But I knew there was a high probability of the concert ending with Berninger walking through the crowd screaming “Mr. November.” I would put up with a lot to be there for that. But this was too much. I made my way to the back of the room while security was fetched.
The sound is better at the back anyway. Standing in front of the sound guy, I closed my eyes and tried to disappear in the music. But I wasn’t feeling it until the very end when the crowd went wild. Thousands of people had just spent an hour completely absorbed in my favorite songs. It was my bad judgment that let a few assholes keep me from that experience.
The encore started. “Mr. November” felt like getting caught in the breakers, but Berninger didn’t jump off the stage then. He saved that for “Terrible Love,” the song that wouldn’t leave me alone until I started writing fiction – my first attempt since seventh grade.
“He just jumped into the crowd right where we were standing,” said the Daddy.
“Of course he did. That’s why we were standing there,” I replied through teeth clenched as tightly shut as my eyes.
“No wait, he’s right here!”
I opened my eyes. Matt Berninger was ten feet away from us. He backed toward the soundboard, white microphone cord stretching all the way back to the stage like a diver’s oxygen line as he growled the chorus to “Terrible Love.”
The effect of a musician jumping into the crowd is undeniable, magical, and unfailing. It even works at teenage battles of the bands. Just imagine the effect of the iconic singer of a headlining national act, stalking through the spiderlike outstretched limbs of fans to the very back of a baroque theater. You might imagine that standing in the middle of that terrible love you would feel all the feels. But not yet.
All of the feels is when you join 3,000 other voices singing an acoustic “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.”