Mar 312014

Before or after reading this brief post, please click on this link to watch The National perform live on The Tonight Show. Thank you.

The core seven.

The core seven.

There are times when even I have trouble mustering the energy to keep the Halls of Rock open for business. Our online culture and community have changed. Our daily crew of hearty participants has thinned out. I’ve got a half dozen other projects that have been keeping me busy. Sometimes I get sick of complaining, or what seems like complaining as I rail against the injustices in rock critical thinking. Then I see something like The National perform live on The Tonight Show. Then I regain the strength I need to do my part to keep Rock Town Hall chugging along. Here’s what I’m talking about…

I recorded this episode of The Tonight Show last week, for a piece a DVR-less friend of mine is writing. Having remembered thinking the first album by The National was “pretty good, for that kind of thing,” when I heard it a few years ago, I was curious to see what I thought of the band now. The choir/string players positioned in the back right corner of the stage gave me pause. I’ve been sick of that shtick since the ’90s, when it seemed every grunge- and hair metal-rooted band from the late ’80s with a shot at a national audience as their initial run of success was about to run dry incorporated a platoon of swaying, 100% black cotton-clad, long-haired women to graciously saw away at their acoustic stringed instruments while the featured artist did their usual thing, maybe augmented by an Oliver on keyboards or mandolin.

I was right to have taken pause. As the camera panned across The Tonight Show stage and the song by The National never gained any steam I counted 11 musicians (Ee-o-leven musicians! as the late, great Phillie broadcaster Harry Kalas would have said), including Mr. Hunt-and-peck on synth and a guy standing right alongside him who did nothing but tap a tambourine with a trumpet hooked on his left arm. I kept waiting to see what the tambourine-trumpet player would do to earn his keep. Eventually he took the trumpet off his arm and blew along for a few measures with the riff the string section already had covered.

The song never went anywhere, despite a couple of cool guitars and a singer who actually has the ability to sing in a rich baritone that is not my cup of tea but is pleasing in its own way. (The singer, by the way, might want to try opening his eyes once in a while.) Eleven musicians, each presumably earning a paycheck, to make the sound 3 or 4 musicians could have done for a third of the payouts. What’s the point? It’s the same feeling I get when I see The Arcade Fire, who employ about 15 musicians playing exotic instruments from around the globe. What the result? It usually adds up to what sounds to me like a 4-piece song by The Cure. I’m all for friendship and community building, but do you have to drag your extended group of friends on tour with you? What is the point?


  8 Responses to “Why Rock Town Hall Must Chug Along!”

  1. I tried to view the video on two different sites but it wouldn’t load on either. Perhaps my network isn’t sufficiently robust to support that many band members.

  2. See if you can watch it through Stereogum:

    Here’s what they have to say about this performance:

    Nearly a year after releasing their last album Trouble Will Find Me, the National are still showing up on late-night shows, partly because their new movie Mistaken For Strangers is dropping and partly because people just don’t get tired of watching this band. Last night, they rolled through Jimmy Fallon’s rebooted Tonight Show to smoulder their way through the Trouble Will Find Me track “This Is The Last Time,” with a string section adding a touch of extra grandeur. Watch the performance below.

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    All that review needs is quotation marks around “extra grandeur.”

  4. misterioso

    To say nothing of “smoulder.”

  5. misterioso

    To be fair, the trumpet-wearing tambourine man did (much, I have to say, to my disappointment) actually play the trumpet, briefly. I mean, it would’ve made a real statement if he had just worn it. All I can think of is that moment in Spinal Tap when Marty DiBergi queries Ian Faith about why he carries a cricket bat, and (to paraphrase) Faith says “well, I carry this out of, I don’t know, what’s the word…” and DiBergi offers, “Affectation?” “Yes.”

    “Mr. Hunt-and-Peck”–I like that.

  6. 2000 Man

    I’ve got the cd named after a color by them. It was like three bucks or something and had an extra cd, so I figured maybe I’d give them a chance. They’re too mellow for me to take in big chunks. A little at a time is okay. The first thing I thought was your first thought – how many licks does it take to get to the middle of a Tootsie Pop? It’s three, so why does a Rock band need need more members than it takes to put on the entire Fallon show? Why does the drummer play with a tambourine instead of a stick? The trumpet guy has a tiny tambourine, just give him a bigger one and use a stick on your drums.

    Unless his had is cut off and he had a tambourine fused on. That would pretty pretty cool. I’d like to see a show about that. The Adventures of Tambourine Hand. He could play a piano, a guitar – all sorts of things. I think it would be pretty great.

  7. Hank Fan

    We need you on that wall. Thank you.

  8. Trouble Will Find Me reached new heights of boring for an already pretty boring band. They’ve had good songs though – Bloodbuzz Ohio is excellent, and Mr. November sort of illustrates what they could be if Berninger didn’t sing in a monotone all the time.

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube