Brooklyn, New York’s The National recently returned to Toronto to play a three show sold-out run at Massey hall in support of their excellent 2013 release, Trouble Will Find Me. The band is closing in on a year’s worth of touring since the record release, but if previous itineraries are anything to go by, they probably have the better part of another one before they’re all said and done. 

Since they last played Massey Hall back in the late spring of 2010 The National have been on a steady rise. Their previous album, High Violet, was an indie chart topper that proved to be both a critical and financial success. The resulting tour saw them playing to their largest audiences yet, including a headlining show at the Air Canada Centre. They have also made the leap on to the silver screen; Tom Berninger, brother of lead singer Matt, has, almost accidentally, made a rather touching documentary (“Mistaken for Strangers”) of the High Violet tour and living in the shadow of his famous sibling.

The evening’s set began with a double shot from Trouble Will Find Me; lead single “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and “I Should Live in Salt” paved the way in typical mid-tempo form. Things continued in that vein with thoughtful interpretations of “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, “Demons” and “Afraid of Everyone”, but the show lacked energy between the band and audience until the arrival of “Squalor Victoria”. It was here that Berninger was allowed to let loose vocally and where Bryan Devendorf’s drums propelled the action forward. It was also here that some brave soul performed a feat that I have never before witnessed at Massey Hall: a stage dive! He most certainly was on Advil for days after because he landed on top of empty chairs when the people parted like they were the Red Sea.  

The main set concluded with the rousing trifecta of “England” (which featured a drunk Berninger forgetting the lyrics), Graceless and Boxer favourite “Fake Empire”.

The true highlight of the evening though came during the encore. It has become a ritual for Berninger to take a stroll through the crowd at some point during a National show and on this occasion it was to the strains of “Mr November”. Where four years ago Berninger was Hell-bent on trying to climb from the mezzanine to the balcony, now he was content to just do a semi-circle of the main floor all while screaming how he “won’t fuck us over / I’m Mr. November!”. What made this occasion so memorable was that after he had completed his walkabout, he found the time to take a seat next to yours truly and collapse for a moment in time…a moment that I won’t soon forget!

- Johnny Hooper