Among the gloomy soundscapes and the brooding poetry, the National remains at its core a therapeutic band. Attribute it to the cleansing chord changes or just the sheer fact that sonically and lyrically the band understands human struggle. So when a few songs into the National’s set at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Tuesday the band announced that a portion of ticket sales would go to Colorado-based non-profit Conscious Alliance to help local flood victims, it felt sincere.
“All of you who are victims of the floods, you’re in our minds,” singer Matt Berninger said. “We didn’t even think we would be here tonight.”
The gesture came after Berninger growled his way through the ending of “Sea of Love” and its chant of “trouble will find me.” You couldn’t shake the feeling that we’re in this together, which is why fans gravitate toward the National.
Naturally, the band can connect on this core level with few theatrics. The stage setup on Tuesday was modest with a thankfully forgettable giant LCD screen, and it took only two backing multi-instrumentalists to fill in the bigger production from the National’s last few releases.
Most importantly, a night with the National is a serious occasion, as even the casual fan would have guessed when the band opened with “I Should Live in Salt” on Tuesday. To help set the scene of emotional baggage further, the band followed with the money-owing chase of “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and the confessional “Demons.” And even with a set heavy on the brooding tunes from “Trouble Will Find Me” and “High Violet,” the National did try to vary the tone somewhat. A brief interlude from drummer Bryan Devendorf led into his rolling “Squalor Victoria” intro and the first track the National played from the percussion-driven “Boxer.” The atmosphere turned a little aggressive on this song, with Berninger yelling into the mic, throwing it down at the end. For anyone whose attention waned, this was a welcome burst of energy.
Set a little loud in the mix, the backing horns worked to brighten up “This is the Last Time.” Then again on “Fake Empire” — even with the city lights draped above the Red Rocks stage — the horns turned the track into a cheerful experience.
Throughout the night, Berninger’s baritone didn’t quite have the ideal range — an issue he addressed with the quip, “My voice hasn’t cracked this much since I hit puberty.” And while it was disappointing to hear him miss some of those brighter notes, his growl added even more pathos to the performance.
For an encore the band once again tapped into that energy, when Berninger bounded through the crowd during a shouting performance of “Mr. November.” But then the band ended things on a very National note with the wasteland croon of “Terrible Love” and an intimate version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.”
Proteges of the National, Local Natives, played to what was already a nearly-full Red Rocks at about 8 p.m. Somewhat more vibrant than the headliner, Local Natives brought its soaring coos and harmonies to “You and I,” and a topical cover of Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign.”
See our live chat from the National at Red Rocks below.