The National reminds Cincinnati how they became and why they still are Cincinnati’s most influential band to claim the Queen City as home.
After the release of 2017’s Sleep Well Beast, the National came up with the idea to hold two festivals under the name Homecoming. Symbolizing their admiration and love for their two claimed homes of New York City and Cincinnati.
The five-piece indie giants all hail from Cincinnati. However, they were formed in the early 2000s while they all were living in New York. The first and main festival was held in Smale Park in downtown Cincinnati, where the band brought in some of the more exciting acts in indie music at the time.
Artists like Father John Misty, Feists, Big Theif, Alvvays, Julien Baker, and more. While also featuring fellow Ohio natives and legends in their own right, the Breeders. The festival was curated with meticulous intention to showcase both those who inspired the National and who they admired as peers and upcoming acts at the time.
The band would run through a slew of deep cuts and hits over two days. Highlighting not only their own music but local artists throughout the Greater Cincinnati area and helping shine a light on the city of Cincinnati.
In 2019, the band would announce the follow-up to the incredibly successful inaugural festival. However, the COVID-19 pandemic would force the band to cancel the shows and leave the existence of Cincinnati’s only true music festival in limbo.
But Homecoming wouldn’t go quietly, and in 2022, The National announced the long-awaited return of their music festival for September 2023. This time, they would pull every string they had. It seemed like to curate for many indie rock fans, one of the most illustrious and rare music festival lineups in the world.
The lineup touted several acts that most fans never get the chance to see play, let alone tour. Artists like New York's The Walkmen, who, after nearly a decade hiatus, got back together, 90’s indie rock legends Pavement, and the often enigmatic ‘70s rock icon Patti Smith. Those names alone were worth the price of admission.
However, they would once again tap rising acts in the indie rock scene like Snail Mail, Bartese Strange, Weyes Blood, Julia Jacklin, and fellow Cincinnati acts The Drin and Carriers.
Since the last time Homecoming was held in Smale Park, much has changed in Cincinnati. Mainly the addition of The Andrew J. Brady Music Center down on the Banks next to Paycor Stadium. Although not offering as vast of a venue for the festival as before, the venue offers an outdoor stage, indoor facilities, and plenty of room to house a two-day festival while giving it more of an intimate experience.
Intimacy, however, has never been a problem for The National. They are arguably the most engaging band today when it comes to treating their fans with care and offering them the best experiences possible.
As a college student, I became what some may call an “obsessive” fan of the National. If you look at my bio in CincyMusic, I still have them listed as my favorite band. Not being a native Cincinnatian, I never truly appreciated the special bond between the band and their home. I attended the first Homecoming Festival in my Senior year of college and was able to find out firsthand how unique and special this experience was.
With fans from all around the world attending, it was amazing to see the reach that their music had on so many. However, it was the OG fans, the ones who had seen them for years, with stories of seeing them at small venues in the area, those who knew the band members from Matt Berninger’s days at UC to those who still run into Bryan Devendorf, the drummer at their local restaurants. It showed how truly small Cincinnati can feel, how much these five guys still love this community, and how deeply rooted it is in their music and their story.
As the weekend began, fans were delighted to find that the weather would be perfect for both Friday and Saturday. Although hot at times during the day, it was still nice, and often had a breeze out on the turf lawn of the AJB stage. For any fans too hot, though, they would be able to go inside the venue to look at merch and get concessions as usual. However, they would also be able to purchase past concert posters of the National’s more memorable shows in the last decade, along with prints of some of their most famous stage moments.
Artists began taking the stage around 1:30 on Friday, starting with the National’s multi-instrumentalist and horns section member Allen Lanz, bringing his blend of indie and jazz to ease fans in as they entered the venue.
As 2 p.m. rolled around, readers of mine will know that I was very excited to see the next milestone in the career of Cincinnati’s Carriers. The Curt Kiser-led Heartland-Indie Rock Act has been supported by much of the nation. Starting with drummer Bryan Devendorf helping produce and play drums on Carrier’s first record, along with signing to Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s New York-based label Brassland Records, to even being recently featured on The National’s first record of 2023 First Two Pages of Frankenstein.
As Kiser and company took the stage, they were greeted by a smaller but enthusiastic crowd as they would really be the beginning of the festival. As Carriers are just around the corner from releasing new music, the band is continuing to road-test new music and songs like “Mixed Emotions.” This performance once again brought out Kiser’s charisma and shed some light on more of the band's influences. One of the biggest being The National, it seems like on some of Kiser’s new songwriting.
I first heard about the Washington, D.C.-based artist on his 2020 EP Say Goodbye to the Pretty Boy. The EP was a five-song collection of National covers, a beautiful reimagining of their earlier work.
So I was naturally very excited upon the release of his excellent 2020 full-length Live Forever. The album was by far one of my favorite records of that year and gave me so much excitement for what was to come from him going forward. His music pulls from all elements of the spectrum. Emo and indie rock are the two clear main influences. However, there are moments of hip-hop, arena rock, folk, electronic, and more. His music is that of someone who is truly a fan of all sounds and tries to implement them in each one of his songs.
Strange came out on fire, offering up some of his more well-known tunes like “Heavy Heart,” “Boomer,” and “Stone Meadows.” What was really my biggest takeaway from the show was Strange's clear desire to reach for the stars with his music. He knows how big their sound can be and wants to continue to grow that to the heights of bands like the National. Where ballads and epic crescendoing songs can live in the same place as his more straightforward rock and emo tunes. It was so exciting to see a band that has that potential still in their growing period. It’s not hard to imagine that Strange could be playing in big amphitheaters and even arenas in the future should he reach the commercial success that requires.
As the sun was finally setting, I was ready to see the surf rock, indie sleaze songs of one of the best and grossly underrated bands of the early 2000s New York post-punk revival scene. Though they did garner plenty of critical acclaim and moderate success in bigger markets around the world, the Walkmen never seemed to gain the same broad success that their peers like the Strokes, Interpol, the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, and the National seemed to gain.
However, their music was a huge influence on their peers and bands that came to follow in the late ‘2000s. With albums like 2004’s Bows + Arrows, the Walkmen solidified themselves as one of New York's best and up-and-coming bands. However, after 13 years together and finishing their 2013 Heaven tour, the band decided to take an indefinite hiatus. Ask throughout the years, lead singer Hamilton Leithsauer never dispelled the possibility of a reunion but never gave a solid yes or no either. That is until 2023 when the band announced they would be reuniting and touring for what I assumed would be next year's 20th anniversary of Bows + Arrows.
As the Walkmen strutted out on stage, I was reminded of the swagger that Leithsauer carries with him. It’s part of what makes him such an incredible frontman. His presence on stage is that of a seasoned veteran; he commands the audience's attention with his impassioned vocals and undeniable cool. Homecoming was a limited number of show dates announced this year, seemingly to knock off some of the dust for the band. However, no need. The Walkmen seemed to be in full form.
Running through classics like “We’ve Been Had,” “In the New Year,” and “The Rat,” to name a few. “The Rat,” for me and many, came as the highlight of the show, not only as it was arguably their most popular song but also because of the absurd and funny gesture of Leithsuaer throwing bread begets into the crowd. It was funny, but also probably had some sentiment about “The Rat” that at least went over my head.
The song's thunderous and unrelenting drum build-up is then released by the Petty and Dylan-esc whining voice and controlled scream of Leithsuaer. Paired with their melodic surf rock guitar parts, it made me realize what fans have been missing for years. It's one of the truly great indie acts of the last 20 years. Whether for a short time or a long second half of their career, I will be trying to see the Walkmen as many times as I can going forward.
What can you say about a living legend on stage that hasn’t already been said? In the ‘70s, when all of music was undergoing a renaissance in New York, Patti Smith was changing music to become something more introspective, something more important, and more challenging. Coined the “Punk Poet Laurette,” Smith infused her poetry with rock to create some of the best records of the ‘70s, including 1975’s Horses. The iconic album cover alone should give fans of The National an idea of at least her aesthetic influence on them.
Her influence also goes deeper with The National. Smith’s poetic-driven music, surrounded by punk and rock music, with these cathartic wails and ominous verses, is a clear touchstone for the Cincinnati quintet.
Now 76 years old, one naturally wonders what could Patti Smith sound like now? Many may assume she would sound like her peers like Bob Dylan, sounding rugged and worn but still offering their classic tunes.
However, she was much more like her former writing partner on “Because the Night,” Bruce Springsteen. Incredibly energized and captivating. Not because of her age either, simply because she still has it. Her voice was incredibly intact, her energy on stage was mesmerizing, and at least for me I was hanging on every word she said.
When I say this was a true-to-form, authentic Patti Smith show, it was. From talking about her current and long-term political worries, to covering greats like Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” to even dedicating a cover of “Guiding Light,” to the late Tom Verlaine of Television, to reading an 8-minute poem from the famous poet Alan Ginsberg’s Footnote to Howl.
If fans were looking to be taken back to 1976 at CBGB’s in New York, you were transported back with Patti Smith’s set. The highlight came at the end when Smith ended appropriately with her cover of “Gloria,” that I would argue she made much more famous than Them or Van Morrison could have ever imagined. Her passion, frustration, and angst was still felt all these years later. Only this time, she was helped by a crowd of thousands singing along.
The moment you realized how rare and important this moment of the show was when you looked to stage right, where you saw musicians from the day coming back on stage to watch the legend that Smith is. Artists like Barteese Strange, Matt Berninger, and, for some reason, Michael Stipe! We were all watching in amazement. Stipe, unfortunately, never made an appearance past that, however, legend respecting legend clearly.
Smith would make one more appearance this weekend, joining The National on stage to perform “I Need My Girl,” a moment that clearly meant so much to The National as Berninger seemed to get choked up as he thanked her for joining them.
The National: High Violet
It was now time for The National to take the stage. Fans were eager to see what the band would play the first night.
The festival was billed with The National performing both their 2010 critically acclaimed record High Violet, the first night. Then performing their 2013 follow-up, Trouble Will Find Me, both of which are my personal two favorite records of theirs. However, that changes day to day between them and 2007’s Boxer, where the band really broke through and found their sound.
But the question remained: what will they play after the albums in full? Coming off of their newest release, First Two Pages of Frankenstein, one could assume that they’d be playing tracks off the new record with some older hits mixed in. However, fans would be in for a very special surprise.
The set started a little upside down, as the band would now have to begin their show with what normally is slated as an epic and perfect closer to a show, “Terrible Love.” This crescendoing epic allows fans to engage, screaming along with Berninger the lyrics “It’s a terrible love and I’m walking with Spiders!” Instead they would lead with this, even having guitarist Aaron Dessner pointing out how weird that felt for them even.
“Well, we normally finish with this song, but since it’s the first song on the record, I guess we need to start with it,” said Dessner.
Having seen The National now many times, it was strange to hear this song first, but no matter where it sits in the line it really gets the crowd going.
After that, the set goes in succession, with “Sorrow,” “Anyone’s Ghost,” “Little Faith,” and “Afraid of Everyone.” This seemed to be so special because of the simple fact that with a catalog now as long as The Nationals, you don’t often get to hear these tunes anymore.
Then comes the song that any fan of The National looks at as the hit. The one that got many fans into the band, and the one that never gets old. “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” Similar to “Terrible Love,” Bloodbuzz is a song that builds and builds relying on the repetitive and unique style of drumming from Bryan Devendorf. The song's peak releases with Berningers vocals, “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees.” A nod to their home that feels so much more special when played in Cincinnati.
Fans sing in unison as the song builds and builds to this euphoric release of emotion and melodrama. Similar to a Smiths song, fans all around are emotional and feel this deep connection to the band and Berninger's cool charisma.
For me, the back half of the record is my favorite. With songs like “Lemonworld,” “Runaway,” and “England.” But my favorite of the back half that was played that night was actually “Conversation 16.” A song that I don’t hear too often anymore when I see them live. Its catchy hook reminded me of how good a songwriter Berninger and the Dessners can be, even with their deeper cuts.
The album ends most notably with another sing-along ballad “Vanalyle Crybaby Geeks.” A song that truly supplanted The National as the quintessential “Sad Dad” rock band they are. Although I’ve seen Berninger deny that label throughout the years, even saying at another show I saw in Cincinnati years ago where Matt said, “I’m not that sad,” jokingly to the crowd. However, it seems that the band has begun to embrace that label, even selling shirts that read “Sad Dad.”
After that, the surprises began. First, Patti Smith joined the band on stage for a duet on “I Need My Girl,” a song that would be played the next night as it was the lead single off of Trouble Will Find Me. But hey, it’s Patti Smith you sing whatever song you can with her on stage.
They would then break into the first few tracks off of their newest record, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. “Once Upon a Poolside,” “Eucalyptus,” which featured Carries Curt Kiser on the studio version, and then “Tropic Morning News,” the lead single off of the record. Now, as a fairly long-time fan at this point, I did feel like this was a strong album but by no means their best; however, after seeing these three songs live, I got it. These songs were once again better conveyed through the bands ability to give it the emotion and grandeur that each of their songs deserve, in their live format.
They then broke into a few of my favorite live songs, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” a blistering track that signaled the change in the band's dynamics where they began to allow their more angst driven tunes and frustration with the political environment to be completely bared upon their tracks. Also, giving way for the Dessners brothers to become the true song architects they are, where their guitars are at the forefront of any of their more angry songs.
Playing several deep cuts like “Cherry Tree,” which the band dedicated to their fan club members, titled Cherry Tree. They also broke out “Available,” off their second record, 2003’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. It was the band’s first time playing this song since 2014.
Then they began to pull at my heartstrings with playing, “Apartment Story,” my favorite song probably of the band’s entire catalog. Off of Boxer, the song is to me the perfect blend of what the band is able to do when they’re churning on all cylinders with Berninger’s lyrics depicting a moment of sincerity and vulnerability, the Devendorfs connection with rhythm and the Dessner brothers ability to pair their guitars, almost like a Luven Brothers harmony. To me, this song is what makes them so great.
Then, picking up the tempo with one of their more pop-sounding tunes off the 2017 record, “Day I Die,” although not a conventional hit-making title, the song captures the band's ability to make very accessible and U2-like epics. The Dessner’s guitar playing is reminiscent of albums like The Joshua Tree, that explore every ounce of space in the studio.
After this is when the biggest announcement of the evening came. The crowd silenced for Matt and Byrce Dessner to announce that the band would be releasing a new record Sunday at midnight. However, the album wouldn’t be available till next month, however, fans could purchase an autographed copy of the record before anyone else. Once again, a display of affection for their most dedicated fans and their hometown. The moment was funny as fans cheered. However, it seemed like the Dessner brothers had been spending too much time with their collaborator Taylor Swift, as they didn’t at first get the blood-curdling screams they expected at first.
Bryce Dessner then said to the audience, “You guys should be really excited, this is only available to fans this weekend.” After being met with more roaring applause, Aaron said, “I guess we could’ve rehearsed that announcement more. To Berninger responding, “I worked on that for like 15 fucking minutes.” It’s moments like these, you get a look at lifelong friends who still bicker like siblings.
The band then played three tracks from the brand new album titled, Laugh Track, a record that would be seen as the second half to First Two Pages of Frankenstein. “Space Invader,” “Dreaming,” and “Smoke Detector.” All of which actually pair sonically very well with the prior album.
The set ended with a classic and fan favorite, “Fake Empire,” the lead track off of Boxer, and one that could easily replace “Terrible Love,” on any given night.
The encore was three songs, but a raucous one. With “Abel,” off of Alligator, their 2005 record, a blistering song that refines with the lyrics “My minds not alright,” for all the Sad Dads to then get all that aggression out. Followed by another song off that record, “Mr. November,” a staple of their live shows that once again is filled with angst and frustration toward the political environment that has only become more relevant as the years have gone on.
Finishing with “About Today,” one of their other more well-known songs, a lovely tune that used to be played live in a more quiet and subtle format, but now has morphed into something that is once again made to be this epic finally to the show. With all of the lights, pomp, and circumstance that comes with a National show.
I ended up getting to the festival later than expected as I was also indulging in the Cincinnati staple Oktoberfest. What kind of weekend in Cincinnati is it if you don’t go to Oktoberfest?
But unfortunately, I had to miss the Drin’s set. However, if you haven’t listened to the Drin they are arguably one of the most if not the most exciting acts coming out of Cincinnati right now and have been garnering critical success from outlets like Pitchfork.
Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin falls in the category of somewhere between Courtney Barnett and Phoebe Bridgers. Her introspective and melancholy songwriting is often paired with Australia's more surf rock influences.
Jacklin performed tunes from her 2019 record Crushing, and her 2022 album PRE PRESSURE. Her guitar rock form of songwriting was on full display; however, it is really Jacklin’s somber voice that makes her part of this exciting lane of songwriters who have the ability to grow so much with their music.
Much like Japenese Breakfast, Boygenius, Mitski, and more, Jacklin will use her base of guitar rock songwriting to challenge her listeners and expand on different sounds. Often that means adding more production and chasing more pop centric sounds.
The highlight for me, however came really during her final song and performance “Pressure to Party.” The song is so fitting for so much of The National fan base, as they too share that social anxiety one has during a party.
Lindsey Jordan and her band Snail Mail were just in Cincinnati this past spring and blew away me and the rest of a nearly sold-out crowd at The Woodward Theatre. Her proficient guitar playing and angst-ridden lyrics about love and the frustration of being a teenager and in your early 20s in today's world are relatable to anyone, young and old.
Her first record, Lush, was an almost cinematic sound record that sounded like it should’ve soundtracked a teenage coming-of-age drama. Followed up by 2021’s Valentine, a much more mature-sounding record that left behind some of that guitar-based rock for a more pop-centric sound that was filled with melodrama.
Jordan came out ready to run through a slew of her hits and make it count as this would be their last performance for sometime as they have been on a nearly two-year run in support of Valentine.
This time, Snail Mail was performing as a trio, however, as to the four people they had on stage last time in Cincinnati. Jordan addressed the noticeable difference by saying that lost their keyboardist because he was “being a little bitch.” Jordan followed that up as the crowd cheered by saying the two had a rocky relationship already but had mended things; however, it implied that he wasn’t a very good fit anymore and, in some ways, a mutual parting. However, Jordan did say she wrote a new song about their relationship and dedicated the new song called “Fuck that Guy” to him. The crowd seemed to revel in the candid moment from Jordan.
From “Pristine,” to “Heat Wave,” to “Glory,” Jordan and Snail Mail didn’t let up off the gas. Making it for one hell of a performance. As a fan, I cannot wait to see what comes next from the outspoken and charismatic Jordan.
Going into this weekend, I, of course, was excited to see one of my favorite bands, The National, perform. However, I was there this past weekend maybe just as much for one band, the one and only Pavement.
The ‘90s Indie rock legends in 2023 are as enigmatic as it gets. Playing very few shows a year and often overseas, let alone in mid-size cities like Cincinnati. So when I saw they would be playing Homecoming this year, I was elated. I was much too young to have ever seen the band in their heyday and multiple hiatus’ kept them touring.
I was not alone in this feeling either. Nearly a third of the crowd was talking about Pavement; hundreds of people were wearing Pavement t-shirts, and there was an undeniable buzz in the crowd as they waited for the band to take the stage.
As 6:15 approached, the midsize crowd grew three times its size and crammed everyone in. Then the Stockton, California-based band emerged for what fans would come to find possibly their last time. The crowd erupted.
Frontman Stephen Malkmus garnered most of the cheers as he is the figurehead of the band and his iconic style of singing is one of the many things that make Pavement so unique. The band, too, came out with a buzz. As multi-instrumentalist and resident hypeman, Bob Nostanovich came out on stage wearing a Milwakee Bucks jersey, bouncing up and down on stage. For a 56-year-old man, it was impressive to see how much energy he was bringing to the stage.
The band began with some of their witty banter and then broke straight into “Grounded,” a b-side off of their most acclaimed record 1995’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Then into “Stereo,” “Starlings of the Slipstream,” “Summer Babe,” “Gold Sounds,” “Kennel District,” and “Silent Kid.” Nearly in that order! I mean, if you’re a fan of Pavements music, this was as good as it gets.
For a band often labeled as Slacker Rock, and too cool for anything, they were giving every ounce they had out on that stage. That may have been because this show at Homecoming may very well have been Pavement’s last show ever. Malkmus, known for his non-chalant attitude and lack of seriousness, continued to seemingly infer during the bands banter that this would probably be the last Pavement show. Saying that they were getting old, as they are all in their 50’s, and that “All this picking gets harder as you get older.” No one else in the band seemed to dispel those statements.
At this point, the entire vibe of the crowd shifted. This wasn’t just seeing a legendary band, this was history. I mean, everyone there was going to literally have their own “I’m Losing My Edge” moment. Fans there that evening would get to say, “I was at the last Pavement show.” That’s street cred for many, for others it may be the best show they’ve ever seen simply because of the fact that the gravity of the show had changed.
The band continued to run through a bunch of tunes like, “Spit on a Stranger,” “Shady Lane,” “Loretta’s Scars,” and “Zurich Is Stained.” At times, it felt like I was seeing them play their Greatest Hits compilation Quarantine.
Beyond the setlist even, the setting of the show was ideal. It was golden hour on the banks of Cincinnati, with the Skyline in the background it was hard not to take in the moment during this show.
The show finished with three classic tunes, “Harness Your Hopes,” a song that actually gained some popularity again, oddly because of TikTok. Personally I think it’s because of Malkmus’ ability to really structure a pop song guised by this Garage Rock sound, filled with humor, with lyrics like, “Show me a word that rhymes with Pavement and I will kill your parents…” All packaged in this sing-song kind of delivery by Malkmus.
Then came “Cut Your Hair,” arguably Pavements most successful and closest moment to a hit song. Fans weren’t going to miss the opportunity to belt out every word they could with the band, especially if this was going to be their last performance.
Before they bid farewell for the time being, hopefully, the band fittingly played their final song of the evening, “Range Life.” Malkmus sings with his whiny tenor, “I want a range life, Where I can settle down, If I would settle down, Where I would settle down.” It was almost like watching them walk off into the sunset with their fists raised in the air like Jud Nelson in the Breakfast Club. They’d done it. They’d gone out on top and as the crowd roared, Malkmus waved goodbye and said “Thank you guys, we’ve been Pavement.”
Although Pavement have this slacker attitude and carefree approach to music, you could tell that this show meant a lot to them. Maybe the old age has made them emotional, but for me this was so awesome to see an earnest moment. As they walked off the stage, you could see band members hugging and pumping their first saying, “Yeah!” They knew if this was the last hurray, then they were going out on top.
The National: Trouble Will Find Me
As the crowd was buzzing after Pavement, it was time for night two of The National. This time, they would be running through their 2013 record, Trouble Will Find Me. A record that came during a time of continued critical success for the band. After having spent their first seven years road dogging and not receiving the recognition they deserved, with the release of Boxer, the band began to see the success they desired. High Violet, reaffirmed that they weren’t going to fade away quietly, and upon their release of Trouble Will Find Me, The National had suplanted themselves as possibly the biggest Indie Rock act in world. Selling out theatres and playing main stages at festivals around the world.
Trouble Will Find Me, became something somehow more accessible than anything they had done before, however maybe their darkest album to that point. What they did manage to do was build off the successes of songs like “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” and “Terrible Love,” however, without as much grandeur. This time, the band would instead focus more on these tighter-sounding tunes, songs that sound like they were recorded in small rooms. There's this dream-like haze that also persists throughout the record. However, as with any National song, when put through the filter of their live shows, these songs, too, become larger than life.
The show began as the album does with “I Should Live in Salt,” a hauntingly anthemic tune that really sets the vibe for what the rest of the record will sound like. That song is followed up by “Demons,” and a live staple for the band “Don’t Swallow The Cap.” This is where the album begins to pick up, and the Devendorfs rhythm section takes the reigns. That’s who really shines on this record and on Saturday evening. The Devendorf brothers, at this point in their career, are almost comically quiet compared to Berninger and the Dessner brothers. However, they unmistakable on Trouble Will Find Me, both Bryan and Scott Devendorf pick up the pace and continue to hammer the crowd with Scotts bassline and Bryan’s signature drum pattern and style.
The next track is “Fireproof,” another song that the band doesn’t seem to play as often live anymore but is still great when they do. Forgive me if I run out of synonyms for haunting, however, this song too would be classified in the “haunting” category. But this time, it really highlights Berninger's singing ability. His bouncing between his signature baritone to his echoing refrain of “You’re fireproof…”
Then comes “Sea of Love,” the most straightforward rock song on the record and placed perfectly in the album to get the crowd going. For me, this is the real meat of the record. With “Sea of Love,” to “Heavanfaced,” to “Graceless,” maybe my favorite song on the record.
“Slipped” is a song I had never heard live, and admittedly, the band said they themselves weren’t too confident in playing this song. However, Aaron Dessner said that this format of shows are fun because it reminds them of how many songs they actually have.
The first half of the set would finish with “I Need My Girl,” “Humiliation,” with a surprise performance of “Murder Me Rachel” for Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, into “Pink Rabbits,” and “Hard to Find.”
The second half would again feature tracks from both First Two Pages of Frankenstien, Laugh Track, as well as a mix of their earlier work.
The real highlights for me came during a run of songs off Boxer. From “Squalor Victoria,” to then “Mistaken for Strangers,” finishing with “Slow Show.” A run of classics for longtime fans. The band would then dedicate “So Far Around the Bend” to Pavement giving a nod to another one of their heroes.
Another highlight from the end of the show came when the band played “Rylan,” and “Light Years,” from 2019’s I’m Easy to Find. Although it’s not my favorite record of theirs, I love a lot of songs on there and those two in particular.
The encore consisted of three newer songs, as well as “Terrible Love,” in its rightful place at the end of the show. When I thought that there wasn’t that big of a difference between starting and ending the show with “Terrible Love,” you forget that the song is used as a cathartic release for both the band and the fans. Having played nearly 62 songs in two days, both The National and the fans needed to have that cathartic shared experience with each other.
As he often has in the past, Berninger joins the audience to sing the song. Pulling his microphone chord through half of the crowd while people reach out for him and grab at him like he’s Morrissey. He’s giving everything he has in this song as well, screaming the refrain as he walks by fans, giving them a moment to truly feel a part of the show.
This music is so deeply emotional and important to so many fans in the audience, there’s something for many about breaking down that barrier between them and the band and Berninger knows that, because he too was once that fan. All of them were.
That’s why they keep their roots in Cincinnati. Although they are now getting to be elderly statesmen of Indie Rock and don’t all live in Ohio anymore, there's still this Midwestern charm and humbleness to them. Let’s face it, most bands don’t come from Cincinnati. Most famous people don’t come from here, that’s how you know about all of them and are so proud to claim them as Cincinnatians. What The National try and do with this festival is show the beauty and uniqueness to the Queen City. They continue to and have shed a light on this city, it’s art, it’s culture, and most importantly it’s music.
That’s why The National is Cincinnati’s greatest band. Friday evening, Mayor Aftab seemed to agree and presented The National with a key to the city of Cincinnati.
As the weekend came to an end, fans were left with a truly unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience at Homecoming Festival. Isn’t that all we want when we attend these festivals? A truly unique and special experience? It seems too often other festivals may rest on their lorals now and just through together the biggest acts they can find to please a general audience and make a bunch of money. But it's festivals like Homecoming that you cannot experience anywhere else on the planet. Curated for quality, not quantity, and made to feel more like a family reunion than an actual music festival.