The National brought their First Two Pages of Frankenstein tour to New Haven, CT’s Westville Bowl on August 3. The tour is in support of their record of the same title, released earlier this year in April. The LP is the band’s first since 2019, and the tour marks their return to the live scene after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled their 2020 plans.
Opening the concert were The Beths, an indie rock band hailing from Auckland, New Zealand. Having originally met in high school, the four band members went on to study jazz at the same university, ultimately forming The Beths in 2014 and developing their sound, citing artists like Alvvays and Bully as inspirations. Though their set was performed in broad daylight on a Thursday afternoon, you’d never have guessed it wasn’t a Saturday evening; between singer Elizabeth Stokes’ charisma, guitarist Jonathan Pierce’s quirky personality displayed in donning a baseball cap emblazoned with “guitar solo” before performing said guitar solo, the group quickly won the affection of their audience. The rhythm section consisting of bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Tristan Deck contributed to The Beths’ signature sound, steeped in carefully crafted four-part vocal harmony. The band left the stage and the crowd properly warmed up for The National’s headlining set.
Originally slated to play Westville Bowl’s first summer open in 2020 which unfortunately had to be canceled, The National’s New Haven debut has been long awaited. Following a performance at Bridgeport’s 2022 Sound on Sound Festival, the indie giants were welcomed with open arms by locals and traveling fans alike. The indie rock giants played a 24-song setlist spanning their career of over two decades, with special attention to their newest record.
Having recorded with Bridgeport’s own producer Peter Katis in the past, singer Matt Berninger noted the concert as something of a homecoming. Their set was peppered with dedications to others having played an important role in their career; they invited Nick Lloyd out to perform “Cherry Tree,” who produced the EP of the same name in 2004, and dedicated “Weird Goodbyes” to a good friend of the band who was in attendance.
Despite being known for their even-keeled sound and deeply complex and thoughtful lyrics, The National is not a band to be slept on. Berninger has an electric stage presence, and found himself diving into the crowd during “Graceless” and “Mr. November,” the latter of which ended with an extended jam session that had a band full of multi-instrumentalists displaying a true show of musicianship and their total harmony with each other; considering the remaining four members consist of twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and brothers Bryan and Scott Devendorf, the familial chemistry on stage makes complete sense.
The band ended the evening with a bit of audience participation during “Terrible Love,” a soulful track about the overwhelming nature of emotion, and a persisting fan favorite over twelve years since its release due to its relatability and the power of its live performance. They then closed the set with “About Today,” dedicated to The Beths, a slow-building performance that took the audience through the full scope of The National’s versatility - from emotional slow ballad all the way through to a full rock band performance bursting with energy.