The National debuted new music at guest-filled Beacon Theatre show (watch)
The National's anticipated new album I Am Easy to Find comes out on May 17 via 4AD, and ahead of its release the band has been performing it live, and screening the accompanying short film by the same name, at a handful of "Special Evening with The National" shows at intimate venues. The first North American show of that five-show run happened Monday night (4/22) at NYC's Beacon Theatre.
The evening started with a viewing of I Am Easy to Find's short film, which was directed by Mike Mills and stars Alicia Vikander as the nameless woman whose life we follow in a series of artfully depicted vignettes and fragments. Shot lovingly in black and white, with solid pops of color serving as dividers between scenes, I Am Easy to Find exudes a sort of hazy timelessness: phones have cords, no one's holding a smartphone, we see no signs of computers. I was unsure at first of the central conceit of the 30-year-old actress playing the film's main character from childhood to old age, but it works within the bounds of the film, which is genuinely moving, especially towards the end. It's all soundtracked by alternate versions of songs from the new album, crashing up against each other as they propel the film, which is mostly without dialogue, along.
Mills sat for a short Q&A after the screening with The National's Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner, moderated by Julien Baker. There, Matt revealed that Mills had contacted the band shortly after they'd released their 2017 album Sleep Well Beast and wanting to make a film together. That turned into a film and an album, with Mills acting as "creative director and Sherpa," according to Matt. They took a few audience questions, and when asked why the band "pretends the first albums don't exist," Matt said, "we see those records and they look like zitty high school prom pictures."
After a short intermission, The National took the stage to perform I Am Easy to Find in full, accompanied by a number of guests: James McAlister (who's worked with The National before and was part of the Planetarium project with Sufjan, Bryce Dessner, and Nico Muhly), a circle of string players including Yuki Numata Resnick, and album vocalists Kate Stables (of This Is The Kit) and Mina Tindle. Julien Baker came back out to add vocals to two songs, "You Had Your Soul With You" and album standout "Where Is Her Head," and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus joined the band on stage for almost half the set. Matt called the chorus a vital character in the new songs, and said that some can only be performed with them present. It was the most elaborate live setup I've ever seen The National perform with, and they sounded bigger and more majestic than ever with the added accompaniment.
After performing the album in full, The National broke out three older favorites for their encore, which finally got the crowd to its feet. See the setlist, and watch videos from their set below. Check out pictures in the gallery above.
Setlist: The National @ Beacon Theatre, 4/22/2019 (via)
You Had Your Soul With You
The Pull of You
I Am Easy to Find
Her Father in the Pool (live debut)
So Far, So Fast
Dust Swirls in Strange Light (live debut)
Underwater (live debut)
Where Is Her Head
Not in Kansas
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness