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The National: High Violet Live

The National performing at BAM, 2010.

The National performing at BAM, 2010. Hear the show Friday night at 8pm on The Whole Wide World with Rita Houston on WFUV. [Photo courtesy D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus]


High Violet, the National’s lush masterpiece of grit and sorrow, turns 10 this year.

As an album that made a lot of Top 10 lists in 2010, it has grown bigger with age; it’s since hit a bunch of Best of the Decade and Best Album Ever lists as well.

In May of 2010, the night before High Violet’s release date, the band premiered their new songs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The show was streamed on YouTube for the Red Hot organization (as Matt Berninger says halfway through the set, “It could be just one guy in his underwear. Thanks, guy. Put some pants on.”) They all lived on the same street in Brooklyn at the time, so it was their hometown gig release party.

That 2010 BAM show will be broadcast on Rita Houston's "The Whole Wide World" on Friday night, April 3, at 8 p.m. on 90.7, also streaming online.

The material is fresh, the band is fresh, they look young and awake. The "new" material is complex and brilliant, and in the video you can see the audience figuring out what to make of it all; they don’t know the words yet. There was one single released beforehand, “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” and after a low-quality leak of the rest, the band put it all up for streaming via the New York Times and NPR. But here no one is singing along with “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” which probably ceased to be the case about a week later.

The National has their way of amplifying their songs in concert, but this performance is subdued, even a little tentative, at least until they hit the closer, “Terrible Love,” which sprouted fully formed as a monster that jumps from the stage and tears your heart out.

Berninger, the lead singer, is in fine form, gripping the mic with a busted knuckle and jumping into the crowd to pull fans to their feet. The rhythm section of Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums) lay out percussion that is so precise and sharp it sounds like it was perfected in a studio. The overlaying, mirrored guitarwork of Aaron and Bryce Dessner shine like metallic suns, and the addition of horns, strings, and added vocals from Sufjan Stevens rounds out the mix.

The full video on YouTube is in the form of a docu-concert directed by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, and includes interview and behind-the-scenes clips from the album’s launch. A special 3-disc vinyl anniversary edition of High Violet Expanded is available for pre-order in the label's official online store.

It's all a naked look at newborn art, before the songs and the band members got polished by repetition and world travel. As Berninger says in the video, “There’s something awkward about what we do. It’s not by design, it’s just what it looks like when we do it, it has an unpolished and almost borderline foolish and embarrassing exposure. Maybe that’s why people can relate to it, a bit. It’s very flawed and we let it be that way.”

Concert Track List

  • Anyone’s Ghost 
  • Bloodbuzz Ohio 
  • England
  • [Mr. November (cut for language)]
  • Runaway
  • Slow Show (from Boxer)
  • Sorrow
  • Squalor Victoria  (from Boxer)
  • Terrible Love (with Sufjan Stevens)
  • Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks