Outdoor music festivals. Hot and sweaty gig goers danced together, twirling clumsily under the bright moonlight. Miserable music lovers drenched to the skin, huddling under tiny umbrellas in their oversized yellow boots. Empty water bottles littered in the aftermath, creating a sea of trash that is bound to propel tempers through the stratosphere.
It can be quite a sight, I am sure, but now that I have actually been to one, I think I can brave through them all again just for one band.
When news was confirmed that The National will be playing at the Hostess Club Weekender at Fort Canning Park, Singapore, on 22nd February 2014, I did not know what to make of it. While I really wanted to experience for myself selected live versions of the tracks off the band’s latest album Trouble Will Find Me, I was not particularly enthusiastic at the thought of having to literally rub shoulders with complete strangers and impatiently sit out a few other acts until the festival headliner’s set later that night.
But as always, beggars cannot be choosers.
The highlight of it all was actually getting to meet and talk to the band members – charming frontman Matt Berninger, and identical twin guitarists, Aaron and Bryce Dessner – during a signing session. Of course, “talk” is an understatement: I only managed to mutter unintelligible nothings and thanked them for coming, before making a quick getaway lest I end up embarrassing myself further in front of my favourite band.
Yes, I finally knew the meaning of starstruck.
I think I had that sheepish look plastered on my face for the next hour or so, at least until The National finally made their way onstage at 10pm, when it was swiftly replaced by a passionate sing-along session that would last the entire night.
As expected, their set was heavy with tracks from new album Trouble Will Find Me. The temperature was raised way up high from the start thanks to energetic opener “Don’t Swallow the Cap”, which later prompted Matt to casually shrug off his suit jacket (or it could be that he had simply surrendered to the heat of the tropics in this part of the world).
“This is the Last Time” turned into a mesmerising ballad, with “Sea of Love” and “Graceless” destined to become forces to be reckoned with thanks in part to Bryan Devendorf’s intense drumming and the Dessners’ blazing guitars, which probably led Matt to keep knocking his head against the microphone and at times coolly shove away the microphone stand.
The setlist was also peppered with goodies from their older albums, but sounded fairly reminiscent to their previous outing in Singapore in 2011. There were the usual staples ranging from crowd favourite “Mistaken for Strangers” and powerful “Squalor Victoria” (from Boxer), to the forlorn “Sorrow” and instant classic “Bloodbuzz Ohio” (High Violet).
This time around, however, stage banter was kept to a minimum; Matt seemed subdued and kept his thoughts to his own, only introducing their additional touring members and pointing out that bassist Logan Coale was temporarily filling in for Scott Devendorf, who was away on paternity duties.
It was also on this night that I finally got to hear my longtime favourite “About Today” played live; the crowd was eerily quiet as they took in the emotional rendition of the song made of heartbreak and pure magic.
The encore set offered nothing new as well: as usual, Matt dove into the crowd for “Mr November” and made his precarious walkabout during “Terrible Love”; at one point he was evidently distracted, singing the wrong lines to the latter while his other band members played on with as much nonchalance as they could muster. (This was also when I nearly got squashed in the process as everyone tried to get a piece of Matt whenever he hovered nearby.)
But I doubt I would ever get tired of adding my voice to the chorus of thousands in the massive sing-along to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, thus capping yet another solid triumph for the night.
So others may have been fortunate enough to score miscellaneous souvenirs, freely discarded for them to remember the concert by: guitar picks, crumpled setlists and even Matt’s lime green bucket, which was used to keep his bottle of wine chilled.
But I am glad that I got to show to Matt, Aaron and Bryce my “Pink Rabbits” t-shirt during the signing session (“This can be a kid’s t-shirt!”, Aaron had suggested), and this brief but close encounter with band members of The National will be mine alone to cherish forever.
The setlist – Hostess Club Weekender, Fort Canning Park, Singapore / 22nd February 2014:
- Don’t Swallow the Cap
- I Should Live in Salt
- Mistaken for Strangers
- Bloodbuzz Ohio
- Sea of Love
- Afraid of Everyone
- Squalor Victoria
- I Need My Girl
- This is the Last Time
- Slow Show
- Pink Rabbits
- About Today
- Fake Empire
- Mr. November
- Terrible Love
- Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
More pictures from my Flickr set are available here.