The Scene: After months of hype and anticipation, The National rang in Fall with one of the last Red Rocks shows of the year. Though talk of the event was ubiquitous, the show was not sold-out even with three outstanding bands on the bill. The warm, clear night fell on fans in their twenties all the way to their forties, filling the venue to over three quarters full.
Opener: Frightened Rabbit. Scottish Folk-Rockers Frightened Rabbit were the soundtrack to hundreds of fans making their way into the venue. With three great bands on the bill the tailgating scene was called a little bit early Tuesday night. The band played with full energy for a less than full house, brilliantly delivering songs like “The Modern Leper,” “Holy,” and “Backyard Skulls.” During one of a handful of songs from their most recent album, Pedestrian Verse, frontman Scott Hutchison, singing of desolation, gazed upwards at the red sandstone walls and grinned in a tiny yet contagious moment reminding me what a special venue Red Rocks is. The darkness of their music pairs well with that of The National, and I hope albums like The Midnight Organ Fight and Pedestrian Verse have now found their ways into a few more hands.
Opener: Local Natives. On the heels of a critically successful album, L.A.’s Local Natives had the majority of the crowd gazing down on them when they took the stage just after sunset. Opening with “World News,” four well matched voices warmed the crowd but it was the vocals of multi-instrumentalist Kelcey Ayer, who banged about in the keyboards and percussion instruments that surrounded him, that stood out above the rest. The five-piece played tightly and delivered songs from both of their major releases. Standouts of their thirteen song set included “You & I,” “Airplanes” and “Ceilings.” The crowd movement didn’t match the energy of the band, but this was the case for most of the evening. The well stacked vocals, energy, and layers of rhythmic percussion alone were definitely worth the drive to Morrison.
The National: Large grainy video played on an LCD screen hanging at the back of the stage as the music of collaborator Sharon Van Etten played over the PA. After a few moments it became evident that the video was a live feed of the band walking from the underground backstage up the ramp. The crowd erupted as The National walked on stage, wine and mixed drinks in hand. They began with “I Should Live in Salt” the first track from this year’s critically acclaimed Trouble Will Find Me. The gorgeous chorus sank in deep as I raised my eye from my camera to take it all in. Frontman Matt Berninger announced, “Walt Disney sure knows how to build here” as he looked up at the rocks “all stucco and foam,” he joked. The crowd swayed slowly and kept to themselves, mirroring the movement of Berninger, in stark contrast to the intensity of the music. The stage, lit in blues, reds and abstract video, fit the darkness of the music lead by Berninger’s weeping baritone voice. The crowd was largely stagnant through the night, however pockets of rowdier fans spotted the first few rows and much of the crowd reacted loudly to the intro’s of songs like “Sea of Love” and “I Need My Girl.”
Berninger mentioned that when they’d played Red Rocks before it was opening for REM and that REM allowed them to share their oxygen tanks backstage. Something they had accidentally neglected to do for Local Natives and Frightened Rabbit. Even with Oxygen, Berninger’s voice struggled at times during the evening but took little from the experience. As I sat atop the 9,450 seat venue with plenty of room, Denver’s city lights in the background, I really took in Red Rocks as a whole for the first time. I had so often complained of the little things about the venue – the acoustics towards the top, drunk latecomers talking, distance from the stage – but the lack of wind, the respectful fans, the power of the music, and the view provided a certain stillness and awe that I hadn’t felt on The Rocks before.
The band rounded out the regular set with a very well received “Fake Empire.” Returning, they shared that much of their family had made the trip out to the show; something that seems to be a recurring theme at Red Rocks. The four song encore began with “Humiliation” and featured Berninger departing from the recording with loud screams towards the end. A high point of the evening followed with “Terrible Love.” Not only was the song performed very well, but Berninger did as he often does and ran into the crowd, weaving in and out of several rows; a dog on the end of a microphone cable leash. The night ended beautifully with all of the members coming up front and playing an acoustic “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” and the giant crowd sang together, sending the evening out with “…I’ll explain everything to the geeks.”
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: A