The National came home again on Wednesday night (Nov. 2) to headline a “Love Trumps Hate” rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in one of the most crucial swing states in Tuesday’s election. On a perfect autumn night in their hometown, the Cincinnati-bred group played a moody, hour-long set of favorites for a crowd of several thousand spread out on the lawn in downtown’s Washington Park on a platform decked with a giant American flag backdrop and the words “Stronger” and “Together” splashed on vertical posters framing the stage.
“We gotta get out there and support her,” singer Matt Berninger told the crowd. “Young people, she’s setting your future… your kid’s futures. So young people don’t take this for granted. We gotta get out now and vote,” he said before kicking into the band’s churning ode to the Buckeye state, “Bloodbuzz Ohio.”
Berninger said he’d shut up and let the music do the talking as the band dug into an 11-song set that kicked off with “Don’t Swallow the Cap.” With so many songs featuring dramatic, emotional lyrics it was tempting to read some subtle subtext into a few of the selections given the dark nature of this year’s contested election. “It’s hard to imagine a country with a president who doesn’t respect women when you have a daughter,” said guitarist Aaron Dessner about what inspired him to write the song “I Need My Girl” five years ago.
Take “This is the Last Time.” It opens with the lines, “Oh, when I lift you up/ You feel like a hundred times yourself/ I wish everybody knew/ What’s so great about you,” poignant words that Berninger sang with urgency over the song’s galloping beat. The crowd, filled with high schoolers, college kids, middle-age fans and families laughed when the pacing singer half-apologized to guitarist Bryce Dessner for spilling booze on his amp before they dug into the song “England.”
“When have I ever been wrong?” he said in a Trump-esque not-apology moments before they played a one of their signature hits, “Fake Empire,” another song that seemed to have added meaning right about now. “We’re half awake in a fake empire,” Berninger crooned over an ominous repeated piano figure. “This one is for Hillary!” he noted about “Mr. November,” which might be off gender-wise given the band’s chosen candidate, but features a chorus that would make for a pretty grabby campaign commercial. “I won’t f–k us over, I’m Mr. November/ I’m Mr. November, I won’t f–k us over,” Berninger howled over and over as the song came to a close.
Before the final tune, “Terrible Love,” the 11-song set featured one last plea for action. “Wake up your friends early in the morning and drive them [to the polls],” the singer said. “This is such an important one.”
The show was preceded by a crowd-rousing speech from The Hangover star Justin Bartha. “I’m here because actions speak louder than words and I had to get my ass to the Midwest and tell you how important it is, you know how important it is,” he said. “I could be sitting in my gold-plated apartment in New York City tweeting out my support for Hillary. But I got my ass on a plane and I wanted to see all you beautiful people listening to The National. Because the National loves Hillary and I love Hillary. You know that when everyone turns out the democrats win and when no one turns out the Republicans win. And it’s as simple as that… this is an amazing time and you guys have all the power.”
The set list:
“Don’t Swallow The Cap”
“Sea of Love”
“I Need My Girl”
“This is the Last Time”