The National released their excellent new album Sleep Well Beast yesterday (9/8) and also wrapped up a three-day celebration of it in NYC. After playing a brief, stripped-down set at the Apple Store in Williamsburg on Wednesday and performing on Colbert on Thursday, the band played their new album in full at Bowery Ballroom on Friday. The show also streamed live on SiriusXM.

After being introduced by SiriusXM host Jenny Eliscu, the band walked out on stage and got right to playing the album start to finish. The National usually play much bigger rooms than Bowery Ballroom at this point (they're playing Forest Hills Stadium on their proper tour in October), but celebrating a new album in small rooms is nothing new for The National, so they looked right at home on the Bowery Ballroom stage that they said they hadn't played since Boxer came out. The new songs sounded incredible live. Sometimes when you see a band play brand new stuff you're secretly hoping for an oldie the whole time but I didn't feel that once last night. The Sleep Well Beast songs already sounded like National songs we know and love.

They experiment with some different sounds on this album, and they had no trouble pulling that off live. They didn't bring out the massive percussion section that they had on Colbert, but between the band and the two multi-instrumentalists on stage with them, they managed to deliver all of the nuances of the new album. Both Dessner brothers switched between guitar and keyboard for the more synthy songs, and Bryan Devendorf had a pad for his electronic drums, which blended seamlessly with his live playing. (After the intense drum part at the end of "I'll Still Destroy You," Matt jokingly[?] told the crowd he wrote that for Bryan.) The album's major "whoa" point is the heavily distorted rocker "Turtleneck," which had Matt screaming his lungs out and banging the mic against his head. It wasn't the only time he screamed during the new songs either. He did it at the end of "The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness," turning it into a noticeably more aggressive song than it is on record.

"System" was definitely the fan favorite of the night, with the most amount of people singing along during the chorus and some pretty massive cheers during Aaron's guitar solo, but it wasn't the only time the audience erupted. When Matt sang the "[New York] dies every ten years and then it begins again" line on "Born to Beg," the New York crowd screamed in approval. And even if "System" was the most widely-loved song of the night, I think the most powerful was "Carin at the Liquor Store." Matt dedicated it to his wife Carin Besser, who it's named after and who co-wrote the lyrics to this album with Matt, and its uplifting anthemic chorus soared through Bowery Ballroom last night. It was tough to hear that and not be moved. (Funny related side note: Before "Carin at the Liquor Store," Matt accidentally dedicated "Guilty Party" to Carin, and realized and corrected his mistake once the band started playing and asked them to start over, which he said they have a rule of never doing.)

The biggest surprise of the night came during the album's last song, its title track, when The National's friend and collaborator Sufjan Stevens came out to play piano and sing backup. Sufjan stuck around for two earlier National songs that he recorded with the band, "Ada" off Boxer and "Afraid of Everyone" off High Violet. Like on those albums, his appearance last night was low-key and not overhyped. Matt never took out Sufjan out to center stage or anything like that; Suf just played with the band like any other member. (Matt did say that Carrie & Lowell got him through some hard times though.) After Sufjan left, they did their classic "Mr. November," and then they brought out another frequent collaborator, Doveman, to play one of the first songs they ever wrote (and one which they almost never play), "American Mary," perhaps the best song on their alt-country-leaning 2001 debut album.

Last night was the second NYC show this week that had both Doveman and Sufjan Stevens on stage. Sufjan was a surprise guest at Doveman's LPR show on Tuesday (which also included National collaborator St Vincent, who also brought Doveman out at her NYFW show the next night).

Some pictures of Friday night's Bowery Ballroom show (including one of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, who were in attendance) are in the gallery above, and a few more pics and the setlist are below. Also below, you can watch some pro-shot footage of the Basilica Hudson shows that The National played in July, which aired on CBS This Morning today.

The National at Bowery Ballroom - 9/8/17 Setlist
Nobody Else Will Be There
Day I Die
Walk It Back
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
Born to Beg
Empire Line
I'll Still Destroy You
Guilty Party
Carin at the Liquor Store
Dark Side of the Gym
Sleep Well Beast (with Sufjan Stevens)
Ada (with Sufjan Stevens)
Afraid of Everyone (with Sufjan Stevens)
Mr. November
American Mary (with Doveman)


photos by Jason Shaltz

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