Hello everyone, welcome to Smale Park in Cincinnati, OH, the hometown of The National!
Today we’ll be attending Homecoming Festival, the special event curated by the National and includes a special performance from them, and a bunch of other indie artists.
This has been a big project I’ve been working on for a while, as a tribute of a band I really like. I’d like to thank everybody who helped me:
Egead/lore whose been my collaborator, charting 3 songs and helping me along the way.
BornGamerRob who contributed a song to this occasion.
And many thanks to Derek and Zombie Capone, big National fans who tested the songs, gave me feedback and helped with the song choice. It’s been a pleasure!
Before we start, I'd like to say that today's offering are all available as a Spotify playlist
So if you feel like listening, go for it
And also, I have made a playlist of all the songs I've ever authored (or helped somebody else to author).
So if you feel like discovering some awesome music, and than being able to play it in RB, here it is.
So now, customs! Today’s lineup…
1:45 - 2:30 – Cass McCombs
Eclectic singer/songwriter with a haunting voice who balances emotional richness, awareness, and wry demeanor in his lyrics, Cass McCombs negotiates styles including Americana, Baroque pop, psychedelia, and sprawling jam band folk-rock, among others, in his music.
“That’s That” is a beautiful song from his 2008 album “Dropping the Writ”, melodic, beautiful and fun to play. It’s not well known but I suggest you give it a try – there’s a good reason why I bothered charting it. Beautiful song from a beautiful artist.
3:15-4:15 – Silver Jews
Silver Jews are a really interesting band. They might be known as a “Pavement side project”, due to the presence of Pavement’s guitarist/singer Stephen Malkmus and drummer Bob Nastanovich. But it’s really about somebody else entirely – the Pavement boys are second fiddle to band leader, the ultra talented David Berman. The band was roughly formed at the same time as Pavement, by the same group of friends, and even though Pavement ended up as more successful, Silver Jews are a really awesome band too.
“Suffering Jukebox” is one of the band’s more upbeat songs, from the 2008 album “Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea”. A fun and upbeat song, but like all of Berman’s composition it has a darker side to it. Is Berman himself the suffering jukebox? Background music whose never really listened to, as “there’s a lot of chatterboxes in this crowd”? We don’t know, but hey, you can now play this excellent song! And there's some really awesome guitar in it, too!
Also, his voice is really similar to the National singer Matt Berninger – which is really why I chose to release this great song this week.
5:00 – 6:00 – Big Thief
Eliciting adjectives like raw, volatile, vulnerable, and intimate, the folk-tinged indie rock of Brooklyn's Big Thief is shaped by the very personal songwriting of singer/guitarist Adrianne Lenker. Big Thief are an evergrowing name in the indie-folk scene, and are currently one of the most popular bands around in the genre. We release two of their songs today:
The third single from Big Thief’s debut album “Masterpiece”, "Paul" is an absolutely beautiful piece of work. “The future self came and told me the whole story,” explains Lenker. “The ghost of relationship future wrote that song. Looking at heartbreak before it happens, after it happened. It looked like an old film in my head. It’s more of a song about a raging internal battle than it is a love song”.
With a beautiful chorus and some gentle vocals and instrumentation, “Paul” is Big Thief’s most listened to song according to Spotify. It’s a beautiful, emotional song you will absolutely love.
Custom by BornGamerRob
"Mythological Beauty" was the first single off of Big Thief's sophomore album Capacity, which breaks free of the so-called sophomore slump. With more power, more drive and deeper subjects, Capacity spawned several heartfelt gems for Big Thief including this wonderful storytelling ballad. Lead singer Adrianne Lenker lends her voice and her personal experience to Mythological Beauty, hitting all the highs and lows of the song in lock step with the highs and lows of young motherhood (her mothers to be precise).
You might dismiss the lyrical content as a homage to excusable escape with simple words, but you'd have to listen with more subtlety as she quickly follows up any allowance with self reflection and inherent knowledge of what should really happen.
Somewhat repetitive on instruments, it doesn't preclude it to be a simple piece. The vocals are a challenge and the other instruments follow along in successive difficulty. I picked this one for its vocal depth, but have no regrets for what the rest of the accompaniment brings.
7:00-8:00 – Wilco
The great Chicago alt-country band returns to Rock Band! Primarly known for their 2001 masterpiece “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” – from which me and mrcoupdetat have charted 4 songs before – Wilco actually has a vast catalog of great, experimental yet catchy music. I’m now happy to bring another one of their great songs to the game.
” is the opening tune of their 2007 album “Sky Blue Sky”, is a bittersweet song about a relationship in a question mark. "Maybe you still love me, maybe you don't... maybe you just need some time alone", sings Jeff Tweedy. Those heartfelt lyrics create a beautiful tune, that's also quite fun in Rock Band - and there's a totally awesome guitar solo in it too! Nels Cline rocks
And now, it's time for today's main event!
9:00-11:00 – The National
One of the greatest rock band of our times, grammy-winning band The National have assembled a huge following after a string of great albums. Known for their sad, heartfelt, and yet catchy and anthemic songs, The National take the stage, and burst straight into the brilliant groove of:
Custom by Egead. Vocals by me.
“And if you want to see me cry,
Play Let it Be or Nevermind”.
It’s a strong opening from the National, who begin with the classic from their 2013 album “Trouble Will Find Me
”. Drummer Bryan Devendorf
maintains the steady groove, as singer Matt Berninger
spits the lyrics, mostly one note, of this painful song, widely considered an highlight of the album and a live staple by the band. Between one sad lyric to the other, the band also finds time to pay homage to Nirvana and to "Let it Be" (is it the Beatles or the Replacements, I'm still not sure). The strong start continues, as the National burst straight into “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
”, the bursting anthem from 2017’s grammy-winning “Sleep Well Beast
”, who was also featured in the soundtrack of FIFA 18
. Next up is:
“With my kid on my shoulders I try
Not to hurt anybody I like
But I don't have the drugs to sort it out”
The first cut from their trademark album “High Violet”, “Afraid of Everyone” is a brilliant song full of paranoia, fear and confusion. It’s title really sums it up perfectly, as Berninger croons about trying to protect his family from mostly imaginary threats (as he’s ‘afraid of everyone’). The song features a recognizable trills guitar riff and a brilliant drum groove, before bursting into a blistering guitar outro with lots of alt-strumming. It also features a choir of voices by none other than Sufjan Stevens!
“I'm sorry I missed you
I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain”
The National then delve into their 2005 album “Alligator
”, as they play the opening song from it. It retains the familiar theme of paranoia – “I think this place is full of spies, I think they’re onto me
”. A groovy song with a great buildup and frantic backing vocals, this is a true fan favorite. The band then deliver one of their biggest hits – “Bloodbuzz Ohio
”, authored beautifully by EvilCornbread
! It’s a great custom and a huge song. Now the band delve into a double-header from their 2007 masterpiece “Boxer”:
Custom by Egead. Vocals by me.
“Can I get a minute of not being nervous
And not thinking of my dick?”
“Slow Show” is one of the most honest and simple love songs in the National’s catalog. But as demonstrated by the line above, it’s a love song the National style – with all the insecurities, confusion and anxiety. Berninger himself explained it in the most beautiful way possible: “It’s about wanting to escape and be home, close the doors with someone that you really care about and just be stupid and laugh. Forgetting about social pretenses and how you have to act in public, you can just be a fool with this person, you know, ugly and awkward and silly and they won’t judge you”. Despite Berninger’s will not to be judged, he’s still uncomfortable, as the chorus perfectly illustrates “I'm very, very frightening I'll overdo it” – his silly dumb show. It ends with an absolutely classic outro, as Berninger writes one of his most beautiful and straightforward romantic lines:
“You know I dreamed about you
For twenty-nine years before I saw you”.
Custom by Egead. Vocals by me.
“We'll stay inside til somebody finds us
Do whatever the TV tells us”
” is another classic from “Boxer
”, an upbeat rhythmic track about staying in with your loved one. It’s a fan favorite with a really catchy hook, quoted above, and it's maintained by a classic, excellent drum groove. The band then segues into the familiar and famous “I Need My Girl
”, authored by BornGamerRob
who did an excellent job.
“I was afraid I'd eat your brains
'Cause I'm evil”.
This absolute classic turn sounds some weird middle ground between a sad breakup song and a song about, well, eating your lover’s brain. According to Berninger, it’s supposed to be funny – “It's a grey area between brutal, uncomfortable honesty and ridiculousness. I do find a level of fun when you talk about eating brains and torture parties”. He also described it as “65% autobiographical” (let’s hope the eating brains bit is a part of the other 35%). But joking aside, it’s a great song, with a brilliant drum beat, and also features vocals and loads of instruments by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry.
“There's a little bit of hell in everyone”
Released by myself on the very same day it was released, "Rylan" is the representation of The National’s latest album, “I Am Easy to Find”, who’s now a month old. It's a big anthem, that's both joyous and sad at the same time, as per usual for the National. The story of a quiet, shy, introvert child, who wants to be special ("Rylan you should try to get some sun, you remind me of everyone"), some suicidal thoughts ("Rylan you could take the quick way out"), classic National lines ("If you want to be alone, come with me"), before exploding into an emotional climax. It's already shaping up to be a career highlight, and makes a great band song.
“God loves everybody, don't remind me”
This uptempo, climatic upbeat song from “Trouble Will Find Me” is another career highlight. A lyrics-heavy song about drugs and medicine and it’s effects, it’s also very fast paced and will definitely be a stamina challenge to drum along. It’s a highlight of the National’s live performances, where Berninger typically takes a stroll through the audience for that song, and shouts the lyrics. “It's the side effects that save us grace”.
Matt Berninger during a typical Graceless audience stroll.
“Do our gay ballet on ice, bluebirds on our shoulders
We're half awake in a fake empire”
Surely this one needs no introduction…? It’s time for the big hitters and this is absolutely one of the band’s biggest songs. How big? Well, the song was used in 2008 for a campaign video of Barack Obama. When asked for permission to use the song, Guitarist Aaron Dessner wondered, "Do they know it's about how fucked up America is and wanting to leave?”. According to Beninger, this song is about "when you can't deal with the reality of what's really going on, so let's just pretend that the world's full of bluebirds and ice skating”.
Nevertheless, the song was used and it’s remarkable. It’s also extremely interesting rhythmically – it sounds like it’s in simple 4/4, but it’s actually 3/4 but the piano plays a 4/4 pattern. Allmusic says it "begins as a dead-of-night ballad that echoes Leonard Cohen, then peppy brass and guitars turn it into something joyous”, and WAmusic describes it as “one of the great rock'n'roll songs”.
“How close am I to losing you?”
The National finish their main set with their most epic live number, and one of their classic show closers (the other one will close the encore). “About Today” started off as a small, sad acoustic number from their 2004 EP “Cherry Tree”, but it evolved into an absolutely monstrous, 8-minutes live tracks. It’s also used for great effect in the climax of the 2011 movie “Warrior” starring Tom Hardy. It’s a sad, heartbreaking song about a couple on their way to break up, with no communication between them anymore. And It evolves into a huge instrumental climax that’s challenging on all instruments. Presented here in all it’s glory, is the live version from the Virginia EP. It’s a true treasure for the true fans in here.
The National leave the stage, to rousing applause, but eventually (And unsurprisingly) come back for a big encore.
“I don’t want to get over you”
The encore starts with a small, yet startling tune. “Sorrow” is fairly well described by it’s name, and was called a “celebration of sadness”. It’s fairly stark instrumentally too, though you’ll need a lot of alt-strumming, and the drum pattern is tricky as well.
Fun fact: The National once played “Sorrow” 108 times in a row
(!), as the band themselves were an exhibition in at the MoMA PS1 Museum in New York. The whole concert – which is 6 hours long – was released as a vinyl, appropriately called “A Lot of Sorrow
”. Matt Berninger said it was "one of the best experiences we've had together as a band". You can listen to it here
, and now, if you really wish, you can also play the whole set yourself at RB – just make a setlist of this song 108 times. Not sure I recommend it, though.
The setlist from this infamous show.
“I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November”.
Time again for the hard hitters! This rocking tune from their classic album “Alligator” has already became a National classic for the ages. This song was originally written about John Kerry and about how stressful it must be to run for president (“I’m the new blue blood, I’m the great white hope”). And it will have you rocking hard on all instruments, especially with the blistering chorus. So be ready to scream your lungs out along – “I WON’T FUCK US OVER, I’M MR. NOVEMBER!” – and make sure you don’t go out of your breath, as there isn’t a lot of time to breathe in that chorus!
“It takes an ocean not to break”
Up next is the climatic height of the National’s concert, the huge opening song of “High Violet”. You might question why did I choose to chart a live version of one of the band’s biggest tunes, rather than the original. Well, for starters the original lo-fi arrangement, while beautiful on it’s own right, wouldn’t be ideal for Rock Band. But the second reason is, I recall seeing them live and being absolutely BLOWN AWAY by this song. It was one of the most intense songs I’ve ever seen performed live. It becomes an absolute MONSTER. And I wanted to try and capture that. So here we are!
This live performance, from Cologne 2014, is pretty much batshit insane. About twice as fast as the original, it’s rocking all over the place, the emotions are insane, and those drums… man, those drums are just completely mind-blowingly ridiculous. So if you’re a drummer, DON’T MISS THIS ONE. Sadly I’m not nearly good enough to actually play it, but I’m sure some of you can. It’s a treat.
“All the very best of us string ourselves up for love”
We’ve come to the last song, and there was only ever one contender here.
The last song of “High Violet”, the highly emotional ballad with the very unusual name, is one of the National’s most universally loved songs. When performed live it is performed acoustically, unplugged, with the microphones aimed towards the crowd, as a huge audience sing along. Even Matt Berninger himself sings it without a microphone.
Here is an audience shot video
of such a performance, when in the middle of the song, lead singer Matt Berninger takes a hold of the phone that's filming it. Awesome video, really.
Anyway, the custom is the studio version, which actually features a full-band arrangement, but it’s a fitting conclusion to this epic night. It’s not particularly hard on any instrument, but it’s just beautiful, emotional, and you’ll have a blast singing along to it.
So that’s it! Many thanks to everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed the show. It's great to finally get this project out there! Here’s the setlist in full without all the blabbering:
See you next time!