Beginning a clear-eyed, crisp set of baritone-soaked guitar rock, the National proved why it’s been a festival mainstay since 2007’s iPod standard “Boxer” Friday at the American Express stage. It was urgent, focused, and principled music from the five-piece.
A bonus: The camping chair-adorned grey beards in bandanas found the perfect ACL 2018 band with which to raise a koozie and nod along until the Beatles songs.
“Everything I love is out to sea,” singer Matt Berninger belted on “Don’t Swallow the Cap.” Given that the show was pre-empted by a call for activism and voter turnout, the lyric had bite. He also made a throwaway Brett Kavanaugh joke that appeared to smear the Supreme Court nominee. There was also a nod to the convened Beto bros and candidate O’Rourke. (And the nearby woman wearing a “Humans Against Ted Cruz” shirt.)
Opening with last year’s “Nobody Else Will Be There,” the Cincinnati band seemed happy to be the last act on the big stage before tonight’s Paul McCartney set. Berninger riffed on the weather and wrote on-the-spot lyrics about sunscreen. The band oversaw the day’s most age-divided crowd—a Gen-Xer literally read a physical newspaper while, presumably, their kids were off dancing to pop rapper Khalid and his wallet of radio hits. I was in a chair myself—the perfect place from which to watch the National, while aging gracefully. (And, ironically enough, listening to set highlight “Graceless,” which power-drived with textured guitar wailing.)
Piano anthem “Fake Empire” and Obama-era “Mr. November” offered fleeting clarity and hope. No one seemed to mind.