It was one of those concerts where the audience becomes so thoroughly one with the band that the whole gig turns into a giant singalong, interrupted with cheers and screams.
“We’ve had three of the best shows we’ve ever had with the band here,” said a slightly touched Matt Berninger, but then added mischievously: “Not including this one. This one’s a bit.. eeh”.
I haven’t been to many gigs in Zagreb where the audience sings word for word ever single song the band performs (especially if the songs are in English), but that is how The National were welcomed three weeks ago (I know, I’m late), for the third time – like they would be by their home audience.
Or, says Matt: “This song is about Ohio. We have more fans in this room, than we have in whole of Ohio. So, fuck Ohio..”.
And: “You guys are a great audience. We always wanna go home and take a video of this to our friends and parents and families and say: Look! Giving up our day jobs was worth it.”
(OK, Matt, I’m sure you tell this to everyone)
When I bought the tickets, the gig was still 116 sleeps away. Then, the date crept up and suddenly I was standing in a line hundreds of meters long, going almost full circle around the building the concert was in. Something was up. I met an ex-boss and she said she had heard the band had not arrived yet.
“But, I think I saw the guys from the warm-up act downtown this afternoon, and The National posted a tweet about Zagreb, with pictures of some birches, which look like birches right here,” I said.
Plus, there were two buses in front of the building, which could only belong to the band. (I’d later find out that one of their trucks had been stopped at the Hungarian border).
Anyway, at this moment I was still taking it easy, because I knew: there was no way we’d be waiting in this line.
But, when the rest of our group arrived and I suggested we just go around the building right to the entrance, a friend looked at me with all the contempt she could find: “I have no intention of doing that. I couldn’t do it to all these people. We’re queuing”.
Well, if we were all of a sudden turning British, I needed a beer. Fast.
Which came in handy because an hour later, we were still about half-ways to the entrance. There was a drum beat coming from the inside, and I started to panic that they had started without us. I don’t think any other band could make me feel so desperate. But the people around me, including some ex-students of mine (who didn’t recognize me, “because you look so much younger now” *cough* *cough*), claimed it wasn’t possible.
They were right: once we were in, there was still more than half an hour before The National got on the stage. But the Phosphorescent were already on – and, well, I can’t say we paid much attention.
Our almost-British group had split in the meantime into the two us who wanted to get as close as we could, and the rest who stayed behind. We landed some ten meters from the stage, with barely enough space to breathe. In front of us, a group of students, one of whom immediately tried to set up his friend with the friend of mine.
“She looks like she hadn’t had sex in a while, and neither has he, so maybe they would be a good pair,” he said.
But neither of them was interested.
Behind us a couple conversed in English. To our right, a high school girl was deeply annoyed by the fact that we decided to stay here and create an even bigger squeeze.
Around 23.20 the lights finally went out, followed by three thousand screams for the Runaway. Three thousand voices sang the words of every song the band played. I knew maybe 60 percent, as I’m a new convert, ever since the High Violet was streamed along this awesome piece in the New York Times. Whenever Matt was not singing, there was cheering and screaming.
Going home, though, I finally realized what this was all about. In our paper, the official reviews always talk about how sad this music is, but it always makes me want to spread my arms and let the wind carry me. This time, my colleague said that The National were a band which “cures our sorrow with melancholy”. But I think this music is pure sex, tantalizingly close to orgasm, but because you never actually come, you feel frustration whenever it stops. Except, that night, live, it might have been different: the whole thing exploded at some point… and the catharsis finally came.