One song into The National's Tuesday night Austin show, lead singer Matt Berninger was off the stage.
Growling the words to "Rylan," a drum-heavy song off new album "I Am Easy To Find," Berninger clambered to the ground and wandered into the crowd.
PHOTOS: The National with Alvvays at Austin360 Amphitheater
For those who have seen The National before, the act is as characteristic of Berninger as the bottle of wine he usually swigs from while doing it. I have a friend whose 2013 ACL experience was poetically recounted as "The National spilled wine on me."
On Tuesday though, Berninger swapped the "big wet bottle" for a red solo cup (possibly, and likely, filled with wine). He raised it to the crowd, gathered beneath a nearly full moon on one of the first cool nights in Austin, and said by way of a greeting, "This is a quiet night."
Renditions of lulling new songs like "The Pull of You" and "Hey Rosie," aided by the soft vocals of singers Hannah Georgas and Kate Stables, kept to the theme.
While most of "I Am Easy To Find" sounds supremely like the rest of The National's catalog, it's missing a loudness almost as synonymous with the band as its sadness. The difference is evident when they launch into crowd favorite "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and later "Don't Swallow the Cap." A collective remembrance seemed to ripple through: "Oh, yeah. This is why I like The National."
Maybe it's the addition of female vocalists and the shifting of attention from Berninger whose hammy stage presence and gloomy baritone call for all of it. Or maybe it's that as a band The National has perfected their sad and neat formula to a fault.
Or maybe they're just not playing the new songs loud enough.
The difference doesn't seem to go unnoticed by the band itself -- especially Berninger who responds to the older stuff by wandering a lot, and I mean a lot, farther into the crowd when singing "Graceless." With his mic cord trailing him like a leash, he made his way to the second section of the Austin360 Ampitheater, hoisting his leg over handrails to do so. The crowd met him with the same fanfare he sings about in "Mr. November."
He made his way back to the stage, fell off a speaker and missed a cue for "Terrible Love" before promising, "We're going to do it so beautiful tomorrow in Houston."