Fake Empire: The National conquer Yonge-Dundas Square

The National B&W

by Matt Juniper

I am still a tad torn about using Yonge-Dundas Square as a venue for live music. While there is something magical about taking in live music in the centre of one of world’s best cities under an open sky, the size and layout of YDS make it far from ideal for accommodating crowds over a couple hundred. Regardless, when I heard the National would be headlining the Saturday evening program it instantly jumped to the top of my list of must-see concerts at NXNE 2013.

As I have mentioned before, The National are one of my favourite active bands of all time and I quite enjoyed their latest effort “Trouble Will Find Me. I have seen The National nine times prior to this in four different cities and in venues as small as the Horseshoe Tavern and as large as Lollapalooza. Each time they bring a little something different to the mix (or even Berninger has enough Sauvignon Blanc they’ll bring something a lot different to the mix).

I arrived 30 minutes before the National went on and found a place to perch on the sidelines of the elevated centre of YDS where I could just barely see. Besides a few of the usual pushy people who forced their way in to the crowd claiming they knew someone right in front of the stage, I was likely the last person to arrive to still get an actual view of the band.

Opening with I Should Live in Salt it became clear very early on to me that The National truly have grown up. Besides the more mature new album and a new set of glasses on Berninger, the live show sounded more particular and precise than in the past. At moments, it mimicked the studio version almost exactly. The band still brings the rock at critical moments though, harnessing this energy and letting it loose for more impactful moments – whether through a raspy scream added in to a song or Berninger doing what is now his trademark journey into the crowd during Mr. November.

Unlike some festival sets, The National had a full hour and a half time-slot and used every moment of it, making their way through an accomplished set of 20 songs from the most recent 8 years of their career. Highlights included new tracks Sea of Love and Graceless, all time classics Fake Empire and Mr. November, a heartbreaking take on About Today that sounded better than the studio version, a completely revamped outro added to Humiliation and a barebones acoustic version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.

Here is the video for Sea of Love via YouTube.
[youtube_sc url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIWmRbHDhGw” theme=”light”]

Throughout the evening Berninger would pause and squint up at the advertising spectacle of Yonge-Dundas Square, remarking about how Beyonce was staring back at him (courtesy of her H&M ad) or joking with his bandmates that the crowd had actually come to watch the basketball game playing on the big screen behind the band. I did see a disinterested yawn from someone in the middle of the crowd that made it hard to disagree that some people may have preferred to be watching the game. Just another reminder that The National aren’t for everyone, no matter how big they get. But for the most part, the atmosphere was remarkably strong for a free show and made a strong case for the continued use of Yonge-Dundas Square as the hub for NXNE. As the horns blared from the stage in the conclusion of ‘Fake Empire’, I couldn’t think of a more fitting backdrop than those city lights and illuminated billboards.


  • I Should Live in Salt
  • Don’t Swallow the Cap
  • Bloodbuzz Ohio
  • Sea of Love
  • I’m Afraid of Everyone
  • Conversation 16
  • Sqaulor Victoria
  • I Need My Girl
  • This is the Last Time
  • Abel
  • Apartment Story
  • Pink Rabbits
  • England
  • Graceless
  • About Today
  • Fake Empire


  • Humiliation
  • Mr. November
  • Terrible Love
  • Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

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