August 19, 2023

The National and Patti Smith played Madison Square Garden

In front of their biggest New York crowd to date, The National delivered a set of their best material with an opening set from living legend Patti Smith.

If Iggy Pop has been designated as the Godfather of Punk, Patti Smith is the Godmother. Her illustrious career has been a part of the punk and independent spirit of rock and roll for over half a century. forever acting as the beacon of what the ethos has stood for nearly six decades after its inception. When she was a rising force as part of the CBGB scene, she cemented herself as a leading poet of her generation and as the opening act at Madison Square Garden, she proved her reputation may still be underrated. She hit the stage like a total force, jumping right into her hour-long set of timeless covers, giving them each new life as performed with dedicated passion and unwavering discipline. Her control was paramount and her voice was electric. Opening with the unifying anthem "People Have the Power," it was clear this was going to be a special night as Patti reminded us all of our rights to love, feel, strike, and be heard. Leading the world's most famous arena through a reading from Allen Ginsberg was awe-inspiring, her voice commanding the attention of every single person in the venue with raw wisdom and an intimate sense of urgency. She paid tribute to her late friend Tom Verlaine with a tear-wrenching cover of Television's "Guiding Light," a real heartbreaking moment as she celebrated the life of her friend. "Because the Night" was a bold and powerful tune that rocked even harder than when Springsteen plays it again giving her the reputation as the Godmother of punk. She covered Neil Young's timeless masterpiece "After the Gold Rush" and dedicated to the man who has been caring about the planet for fifty years and changed the final refrain to "look at mother nature on the run in the twenty-first century," a painful reminder of the damage we continue to witness as the world burns. She brought the house down with a triumphant "Gloria," her signature song that really got the crowd on their feet. It was an incredible way to open the show and left many in a state of bewilderment, their eyes and ears opened to a new world where Patti reigns as Queen. I overheard several people talk about their astonishment of seeing her perform with such a presence and how they were entirely surprised by her ability to control the room and just go for it with such undying passion, a true rock and roll star.

The National crept to the stage in a blanket of darkness and immediately dove into the opening two tracks from their most recent album, April's The First Two Pages of Frankenstein. "Once Upon a Poolside" was a slow, drawn out number that eased into the night and "Eucalyptus" found the band awakening in real time, Matt Berninger reaching down and churning out some powerful notes and while it seemed at first he might be a little hoarse from three weeks of tour, he pushed through and delivered an inspiring performance and his sincerity shone, lighting up the room. "Tropic Morning News" got things pumping, the guitar solo was energizing, stepping up their game and when the video screens came to life, it turned the night into a new experience. It's hard for me to think or admit that albums like High Violet or Trouble Will Find Me as older albums by the band, but both being over ten years old really sets the tone for where the band draws their inspiration for their set lists so when songs from those record came up, the arena came to life. "Demons" was a fun surprise and a rarity, but "Bloodbuzz Ohio" was really special and had people on their feet just as they hit into the killer riff of "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness." "I wrote this song when my kids were really little and I was just trying to get them to sleep, they're here tonight, but I hope this doesn't put any of you to sleep" said Aaron Dessner before "I Need My Girl," a gentle track that hit deep in the feels just before the band really leaned into their past with "Apartment Story." The night was hit after hit from across their incredible discography and with each track, I was easily reminded just how magical the band has become over the last twenty years and how they've come to be the leader of what indie rock has meant in the new millennium and to see them sell out Madison Square Garden felt like a massive moment for the band and to witness felt special in ways that are hard to fully describe. Another new song, "Grease In Your Hair," felt larger-than-life and swelled with emotions such that when the chorus hit, people were once again on their feet singing back to the band with a profound love. "Fake Empire," the opening to 2007's near-perfect Boxer was the one for me and as the piano notes began to ring out through the Garden, it sent shivers down my spine. "Light Years" was a soft opening for the encore and showcased the band's more tender moments but it was a bit of a surprise to hear their typical closer, the thundering "Mr. November" come next, but regardless the crowd rallied hard to make sure the magic was felt throughout. Earlier in the week, the band shared two new singles and "Space Invader" was a real highlight so getting to hear it as part of the encore was a real treat, but witnessing the song's second-half erupt with pure power finally gave the spotlight to drummer Bryan Devendorf letting him shine as he ripped through the song with furious force and extreme precision. Aaron Dessner held a single acoustic guitar and just when Matt Berninger went to sing the song, the audience cut him off, taking over on vocals for the final song, a spectacular rendition of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks." Standing with 20,000 fans all singing the song of the band onstage without the help of the group and only aided by an acoustic guitar was the final magical moment from a stupendous evening, one that was clearly significant for the band onstage, but also one for the folks in the crowd as well. Watching the band look on in awe as the whole room sand every word was a priceless finish to an evening that surpassed all expectations.
Patti Smith set list:

01 "People Have the Power"
02 "Footnote to Howl" [Allen Ginsberg poem]
03 "Waiting Underground"
04 "Guiding Light" [Television cover]
05 "Because the Night"
06 "Nine"
07 "Dancing Barefoot"
08 "Beneath the Southern Cross"
09 "Pissing in a River"
10 "After the Gold Rush" [Neil Young cover]
11 "Gloria"

The National set list:

01 "Once Upon a Poolside"
02 "Eucalyptus"
03 "Tropic Morning News"
04 "New Order T-Shirt"
05 "Demons"
06 "Don't Swallow the Cap"
07 "Bloodbuzz Ohio"
08 "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness"
09 "I Need My Girl"
10 "Apartment Story"
11 "Conversation 16"
12 "Cherry Tree"
13 "Abel"
14 "Alien"
15 "Grease in Your Hair"
16 "Day I Die"
17 "Smoke Detector"
18 "Pink Rabbits"
19 "England"
20 "Graceless"
21 "Fake Empire"
22 "About Today"
23 "Light Years"
24 "Mr. November"
25 "Terrible Love"
26 "Space Invader"
27 "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks"

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