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Concert Review: The National goes off the “Deep End”

I was in front of the barricade for the first three songs of The National’s The First Two Pages of Frankenstein show on Nov. 18. Here’s how it went.
Singer+Matt+Berninger+belts+during+Eucalyptus.
Lucy Walker
Singer Matt Berninger belts during “Eucalyptus.”

I waded through the crowd of forty-somethings on date night to get a spot near the stage. The opening act, Meg Duffy’s Hand Habits, had just welcomed the crowd with an obligatory “Hello, Houston!” as the White Oak Music Hall’s press correspondent explained the dos and don’ts of concert photography.

Matt during “Eucalyptus.” (Lucy Walker)

In between songs, Meg advertised an apron over at the merch table and said all net proceeds from its purchase will be donated to the Transgender Education Network of Texas. TENT works with organizations like ACLU of Texas and the Human Rights Campaign to provide resources for trans people and allies across the state.

“I am transgender, and some people don’t like that here,” they said between songs. “But I think some of you guys do a little, and if you don’t, I don’t care, because you just watched me play a show and I get your money.”

Bryce Dessner dominates stage right during “Eucalyptus.” (Lucy Walker)

When the set ended, the lights came back up and we waited until, like in many concerts today, video of the band walking to the stage filled the screens above the drum kit and The National appeared in front of us a lá Kinkaid video. Bryan Devendorf drummed out the opening bars of “Deep End (Paul’s in Pieces),” a track from their latest record, Laugh Track, which is surprisingly well-developed given the release of their star-studded First Two Pages of Frankenstein less than six months ago. Aaron Dessner and his twin brother, pianist and co-guitarist Bryce, made the White Oak lawn feel like an arena with their strums. (The bassist and drummer are also brothers.) Matt Berninger’s signature murmur was backed by caterwauls and yelps from the crowd, with one passionate girl in the front yelling every word. She dropped her new merch and asked if I could pick it up; when I grabbed it I noticed it was an aptly-designed “New Order T-Shirt.”

 

Band: 7/10

The band did a great job mixing in new and old songs, and the guitar solo-laden set was never boring. Matt and the Dessners ribbed each other about their 2013 art installation at New York’s MoMA, in which they played “Sorrow” over and over for six hours. I particularly appreciated Matt’s efforts to connect

Bryan Devendorf got the crowd excited with the intro to “Deep End (Paul’s in Pieces).” (Lucy Walker)

with the crowd—all of his remarks were Houston-specific. He said astronaut Jessica Meir took The National and Hand Habits down to NASA to speak with one of the astronauts currently in orbit. They dedicated their performance of “Wasp’s Nest” to Jessica’s husband, Duke Brady. Matt said that he wouldn’t “tell you why this is dedicated to him. Some people may know if they look it up on the internet.” In 2018, Duke was on Discovery Channel’s long-running reality survival show Naked and Afraid and stepped on a yellowjacket nest and, from what I read, was stung in a really uncomfortable place. At least he has a sense of humor about it.

Aaron Dessner finishes “Eucalyptus.” (Lucy Walker)

Crowd: 9/10

Simply put, the show had good vibes. The National’s fanbase is a very nice group of people. As one of the best dad rock groups, they attract lots of families, and Matt was full of sweet things to

Matt rouses the crowd with his refrain, “You should take it / ’cause I’m not gonna take it!” during an electric performance of “Eucalyptus.” (Lu)

say about his own. At White Oak’s outdoor shows, there can be a lot of smoking depending on the sort of fan base the performers cultivate. This group smoked very little, if at all, and presented no problems for fans with respiratory issues or just a distaste for The Stink.

Safety: 8/10

When someone in the audience required a medic during “Wasp’s Nest,” we heard thoughts and prayers for all victims of concert exhaustion. One man behind us said he hadn’t been to a show since the tragedy at Travis Scott’s Astroworld show, and he respected bands like The National for putting their fans first. Water and food were easily accessible, but if you were in the middle of the crowd, it was difficult to find. Please hydrate early. Shows on the lawn can get loud, especially if you’re in the front, so earplugs will be your friend. Except for one guy in a Misfits t-shirt who made a stink over the venue’s cashless policy, everyone was very sweet. I would have felt safe as a 16-year-old girl without a concert buddy.

Aaron Dessner during “Tropic Morning News.” (Lucy Walker)

Overall: 8/10

I will definitely be seeing The National the next time they come to Houston. The show was great for all ages and audiences, so I highly recommend checking out White Oak’s schedule for upcoming events.

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About the Contributor
Lucy Walker, Assistant Online Editor-in-Chief
Lucy Walker ('25) joined The Review in 2021 as a freshman. She likes Big Salads and her second favorite animal is a shark.

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