It’s been a little over a year since the Fox Theatre in downtown Oakland reopened, and since then it has gained a reputation for front-lining all the top rock bands touring today: Wolfmother, Monsters of Folk, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Decemberists, just to name a few. On Wednesday night, the crowd lined up early to come see the National, a melodic indie band that has been steadily building a loyal audience over the past few years and now is capturing mainstream attention.
Inside the Fox Theatre, with its dim lighting, high domed ceiling and gold painted walls, people found spots with the best view of the stage. Cocktail waitress wove in and out of the crowd selling beer in plastic cups. One fan in a flannel shirt and slicked back hair said he’d traveled up from Santa Cruz for the show and that next to Louder Than Bombs by the Smiths, Boxer by the National was his all-time favorite album. The rest of the crowd was a mix, from stylish girls with bangs and skinny jeans to men who looked like they just left the office wearing slacks and button ups.
Touring for their new album, High Violet, the National kicked off their set with the song “Start A War” from the Boxer album. The five-man group was joined by a small horn and keyboard/string section for their Oakland show. The National is known for their downbeat, dark and dramatic songs, and as they played their hits the crowd sang along to all the words. The band also pulled a few surprises, like an extended guitar riff off the song “Squalor Victoria.” During “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” a slow ballad, guitarist Bryce Dessner played his guitar with a violin bow, using one hand to hold the strings while bowing with the other, which made the instrument sound more like a haunting violin than a guitar. The audience quietly watched in appreciation.
Now based in Brooklyn, the National originally formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1999. According to online music magazine Pitchfork, “the National became popular in a very traditional way: by releasing some really good albums, then touring the hell out of them.”
After releasing four albums and two EPs, the band released their newest album, High Violet on May 11 on independent British record label, 4AD. But this they didn’t do traditionally at all: They released this album by sending out an email blast to their fans letting them know that they’d be exclusively streaming the album two weeks before release on the New York Times’ website for five days. Now released, the album can be bought through all the traditional channels—record stores, iTunes, the National’s website.
Other shows coming up at the Fox include: She & Him, Goldfrapp, The New Pornographers, Keane and MGMT. For more information on the Fox, check out their website.
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