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The National’s Forest Hills fest began w/ Jason Isbell, Phoebe Bridgers & more (pics, review)

Aaron Dessner called The National‘s October 2017 show at Forest Hills Stadium “one of our favorite shows in the history of the band,” continuing, “the incredible legacy of the place and the fact that it still feels intimate even given its size, we started talking immediately about finding a way to come back for multiple nights with friends.” They’re doing just that with There’s No Leaving New York, which kicked off on Saturday (9/29) at the Queens venue with a lineup of The National’s friends and collaborators. I missed all but the last song of Adia Victoria‘s day-opening set, but her strong voice made an impression on me even in that short time.

Phoebe Bridgers came on next to do an all-too-brief set of highlights from her excellent 2017 album Stranger in the Alps. After starting with “Smoke Signals” and “Georgia,” she broke out a song from her upcoming boygenius EP with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, “Me and My Dog.” I missed the earthy campfire harmonies of the original but Phoebe more than did it justice on her own, pushing her voice to a wail for the song’s final notes. Phoebe introduced her next song, “Motion Sickness,” as “my own real angry song, it’s about Ryan Adams,” and finished her set with “Scott Street,” bringing out her former Sloppy Jane bandmate Haley Dahl to sing backup. Next up was Cigarettes After Sex, whose mellow, sultry set may have fit better in a dim club than under the afternoon sun, but still inspired lots of swaying along in appreciation.

The sun had begun to set by the time Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit took the stage. Jason had a lot to say about his love for The National, calling himself a “huge fan” and describing his time spent recording 2013’s Southeastern: “when I got out of the studio, all I wanted to listen to was The National.” He and The 400 Unit mixed cuts from 2017’s The Nashville Sound with Jason’s solo material; “Last of My Kind” got a country-soaked guitar and pedal steel breakdown. Jason started “Cover Me Up,” solo, eliciting cheers from the crowd with the line, “but I sobered up and I swore off that stuff,” and by the end of the song the rest of the band had joined him again, finishing the song as an all out rocker. They ended their set on a gentler note, though, taking it down a notch for a rendition of “If We Were Vampires” that was almost a lullaby.

“We were here about a year ago,” Matt Berninger said partway into The National’s headlining set, “and I was too freaked out to have any fun.” He seemed more relaxed this time, towering over the crowd from speakers if not running right into it, like he did for “Conversation 16″ and “Mr. November.” The National are a consistently excellent live band, with each member an essential, dynamic piece of the moving puzzle of their sets, with Matt sometimes left lurching around playing the jester. He isn’t all fun and games, though; he took some time to acknowledge what an exhausting week the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings made it for many, before dedicating “Guilty Party” to Brett Kavanaugh. Otherwise, The National’s Saturday night set leaned heavily on their 2017 album Sleep Well Beast and 2010’s High Violet, with Cherry Tree‘s “About Today” and unreleased track “Rylan” as pre-encore treats. This was Phoebe Bridgers’ last show on tour with the band, and she joined them on vocals for two songs, “I Need My Girl” and “Sorrow.” For the final song of the night, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” the crowd sang the whole thing, with Matt directing from the stage. It was a special, goosebumps-inducing moment of feeling part of a big crowd who all knew and loved the same song well enough to belt its lyrics into the night together.

Check out pictures from Saturday at There’s No Leaving New York in the gallery above, and some video clips and setlists below. The festival continues Sunday (9/30) at Forest Hills Stadium, with sets from Future Islands, Cat Power, U.S. Girls, Bully and The National, who promised unique setlists for each night. Tickets are on sale, and if you’re going, find the set times HERE.

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Setlist: The National @ Forest Hills Stadium, 9/29/2018
Nobody Else Will Be There
Don’t Swallow the Cap
Guilty Party
I Should Live in Salt
Afraid of Everyone
Born to Beg
Empire Line
I Need My Girl (with Phoebe Bridgers)
Sorrow (with Phoebe Bridgers)
Wasp Nest
Secret Meeting
Conversation 16
Apartment Story
Carin at the Liquor Store
England
Day I Die
About Today
Rylan

Encore:
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Mr. November
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

Setlist: Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit @ Forest Hills Stadium, 9/29/2018
Hope The High Road
24 Frames
Cumberland Gap
How to Forget
White Man’s World
Traveling Alone
Last of My Kind
Never Gonna Change (Drive-By Truckers)
Cover Me Up
If We Were Vampires

Setlist: Cigarettes After Sex @ Forest Hills Stadium, 9/29/2018
Crush
Each Time You Fall In Love
Affection
Sunsetz
K.
John Wayne
Keep On Loving You (REO Speedwagon)
Apocalypse

Setlist: Phoebe Bridgers @ Forest Hills Stadium, 9/29/2018
Smoke Signals
Georgia
Me and My Dog (boygenius)
Motion Sickness
Scott Street (with Haley Dahl)

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