I enjoyed this part of the introduction:
we’d gotten word that the group would strip its sound way down for the occasion, sticking to two acoustic guitars and a bit of hand percussion. What we got instead was a fully fleshed-out septet, complete with horns and piano; the band showed up at 9:30 to rehearse and sound-check.
Though singer Matt Berninger had barely rested his voice from a show in the area the night before, The National dutifully performed gorgeous acoustic renditions of four tracks from its fine new album, Trouble Will Find Me.
I like the way the first song “This is the Last Time” starts quietly with just some acoustic guitars (playing quite interesting chords too) but builds, adding more and more instruments. It grows and grows until it hits a new section where there’s a trumpet solo that fits perfectly in the song. This new section introduces the second half of the song which never returns to the first part. The backing vocals–between the guys singing the lines and the other guys singing the high “ahhh” that almost sounds like a horn–also work great together. It’s a wonderfully full song.
“I Need My Girl” has a cool part with the two guitars. They play a simple picked melody, but after the second verse, the second guitars plays it one step after the first, making it sound like an echo. And again that lone trumpet sounds terrific here. This song is a bit more mellow. In fact, this whole acoustic vibe sounds different from what I expect from the band.
The third song “Pink Rabbits” begins as primarily piano with lots of backing vocals. But again the song builds slowly (with trumpet and trombone). And again, after the horns go down there’s a backing voice that sounds a bit like muted trumpet.
Through the whole concert, I love Berninger’s casual demeanor while singing–hands in pockets, gently swaying.
Bob tells them that they are performing Tiny Desk’s first encore. The blurb notes that the band:
even treated the hundreds of worshipful gawkers to Building 2.0’s first-ever Tiny Desk encore, in response to a roar of applause that could be heard in the far reaches of the newsroom downstairs.
Berninger says this is usually when they run back stage to piss but we’ll just go behind your desk. Bob jokes that it’s no different from the trombone spit that he sees back there.
Berninger introduces “Sea of Love” by saying this is the only song we’ve ever written with a harmonica in it…and its the last one.
The full band sings and it sounds terrific. I especially like the pause in the line “they say love is a virtue don’t….they” is pretty dramatic. And I am tickled by the final lines of the song (while the backing singers do some great work: “I see you rushing down / tell me how to reach you / I see you rushing down / what did Harvard teach you.”
The National are usually more dramatic, I believe–almost theatrical, but this quieter version is really quite enjoyable.
[READ: April 2, 2016] Feathers
Jorge Corona introduces this book by explaining that he had an idea for a Beauty and the Beast kind of story that features a boy with feathers. And it slowly expanded into the story we have here.
The story opens with a bright white city in the distance. In the foreground, there’s some dark Victorian-looking houses. And as we zoom in, we learn that the dark city is known as the Maze. And in this Maze live the poor. Little kids, called “mice” are street urchins who run all over the Maze. And then there’s a man with a beard. The man finds a baby in an alley. The baby is born with feathers and he decides to take the boy in and raise him.
The scene jumps to eleven years later. The boy, known as Poe has grown up and has stayed hidden. He still has feathers and he goes out at night, but no one knows about him. People just speak of the ghost–Poe–who swoops down unseen and does things (mostly to help the poorest) and then flees.
Then we cut to the city. Unlike the Maze, the city (which is walled) is gleaming white. There’s a girl Poe’s age named Bianca who is also gleaming white. But she has a sense of adventure and desperately wants to leave the city. Her mother forbids it–she is a cruel woman–but her father thinks its important that she at least see what’s happening out there.
When they drive out of the city, Bianca hops out of the carriage and gets lost. She is grabbed by Poe. Poe is shocked that she isn’t frightened of him. But indeed she is not. And they agree to help each other–he will show her the Maze and she will bring him into the city.
Of course in the meantime, Lord and Lady Chappelle are angered and send guards to try to find Bianca. But Poe knows the Maze inside and out and they are able to hide pretty easily.
This is a pretty good exciting set up, but no story would be complete without more troubles The mice don’t trust Poe (they think he’s the ghost as well), and they actually accuse him of stealing away many of the other mice (who have gone missing). The leader of the mice is named Z and she immediately strikes at Poe believing that the ghost has been the reason for their troubles. But then they realize that there’s another man–an unseen figure who plays an entrancing melody (done wonderfully in red). This mesmerized any mice who heard it and he is able to scoop them up–to what end, we don’t know.
There’s also a secret in the City. The City was founded by The Guide, a creature with white feathers. Everyone in the city believes in the Guide as a Godlike figure–they even sing praises to the Guide and that sort of thing. Bianca assumes that Poe is connected to the Guide.
Poe agrees to return Bianca to the City, but of course things don’t go well there–her mother is furious and believes that he stole her away and even though the citizens also initially believe him to be connected to the Guide because of his feathers, he is eventually deemed a monster and chased away.
When he returns to the Maze he learns that all the mice have been captured except Z. He feels bad about what happened and offers to help. Meanwhile Bianca feels bad for what happened and wants o leave the city to help Poe.
I love how much this story evolved from a Beauty and the Beast kind of story into this fascinating story that is just chock full of stories and references to fables. I also love how complex and rich the story became. It’s really a great book.
One of the extra treats at the end of the book is that he shows his complete original colored drawings for the first few pages–the ones that he presented to the publishers. But then he had Jen Hickman color the book and it took on a whole new life. And while his original colors are fine, he’s right, Hickman really adds a lot of life to the story.