Posted by: Cory | October 17, 2008

REVIEW: The National’s “Vote Early, Rock Late” Obama Benefit in Cincinnati, Ohio

The liars are coming and I don’t know what to do…

Although, as many of you know, last night was intended to be a fundraiser for Barack Obama at the Water Tower with entertainment to be provided by Jim James on a solo acoustic set.  The silver lining of the cancelation, if there is one, is that last night we got to catch The National playing “Vote Early/Rock Late”, a benefit concert for Barack Obama at Fountain Square in their hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.  On hand were some of the familiar faces we’ve seen at some of the shows in the past, including Matt’s mother, tons of other family of the Desner’s and Devendorf’s as well as thousands of people covering Fountain Square.  There is scantly anything better than seeing a band with as much love and support as these guys coming home to play to their friends, family, and the people who saw them in bars long before Pitchfork had heard of them.  At one point, Matt noted how surprised he was to be allowed to play Fountain Square on a thursday night after years spent there (mostly just studying).  Thinking back on the timeline and the connection to this place gave us all a greater connection to the band.  Combine the general beauty of that show with a cause, namely our future as envisioned through the eyes of a revolutionary young leader and you’ve got a perfect evening. 

We last caught The National at Madison Theatre in Covington back on September 24th of last year and twice in June before that.  Since that time, the guys have gained significant indie clout including a massive tour with R.E.M. and Modest Mouse.  While I cannot precisely put my finger on it, the band seems a little different than a year ago.  At times they would harmonize things that just didn’t feel like it ought to be harmonized.  Additionally, in our previous instances of seeing the band have been at Headliners, 20th Century Theatre and Madison Theatre, each of which have much smaller stages and felt more intimate.  Seeing them last night, The National finally seemed like the rock stars they’ve always been bound to become.  Also, last night was our first time seeing the guys without Padma Newsome who always puts on an entertaining spectacle simply watching him. 

Just prior to the close of the show, Matt invited “Uncle Jack” on stage to speak about the importance of this election.  Jack touched on topics including the energy of the young people in this election, and drew comparisons from Abraham Lincoln to JFK, chanting “Yes we can, Yes we can”.  The speech was excellent and I can only hope several people in the crowd there for nothing more than the music were inspired to vote and to help organize their friends and help turn this country around.  As a final call, the crowd began chanting “Yes We Can” as The National prepared to deliver their final request for the man who won’t f*ck us over

The guys were as polished as ever.  Not to be deterred by the grandiose stage the guys were standing on, and similar to his performance at the 20th Century Theatre, lead singer Matt Berninger came off stage for a little interaction with the crowd in the most overtly political and energized song of the evening “Mr. November”.  Matt grabbed a kid out of the crowd and they sung together, an experience that seemed surreal to the kid even as it was happening.  Before starting the song, they said they were having a little fight on stage, and I can only imagine it related to whether he should come off stage or not, because as Matt tried to get back on stage, it took a guy on stage to pull him and me on the ground level to push him to get him back on.  In classic style, Matt never missed a beat to the song and finished it with perfect timing.

The National have done a fantastic job this campaign with their endorsement of Barack Obama, from their t-shirts to putting their song “Fake Empire” on loan to the campaign, they have been spreading the message for months.  I can only hope that in a battleground state like Ohio that the message was heard loud and clear…

The National – Mr. November
(Cory pushes Matt back on stage toward the end of the song!)

To buy a Mr. November t-shirt with Obama on it from The National, go here (all proceeds go to the Obama campaign).


Set List (some of it and not in exact order)

  1. Start a War
  2. Brainy
  3. 90-Mile Water Wall
  4. Squalor Victoria
  5. Abel
  6. All The Wine
  7. Racing Like a Pro
  8. Mistaken for Strangers
  9. Apartment Story
  10. Daughters of the Soho Riots
  11. Fake Empire
  12. Mr. November
  13. Encore: About Today

The National- Fake Empire

The National- All the Wine
(thanks to my girlfriend Genny Carnero for capturing this one)


  1. So what time did they go on? I wanted to go, but that mystery schedule was too annoying for someone trying to drive up from Louisville after work.

    Did you stick around for The Breeders? I liked their new album, but they were really terrible at Coachella.

  2. Drew, what do you mean “stick around for the Breeders”? Also, there was no mystery about the schedule: 5 pm Mayor Mark Mallory; 5:15 the Breeders; 7 Natalie Portman; 7:15 the National.

    Cory, great review, great pictures. And to think that only a few years ago the National was co-headling a tour with Clap Your Heads Say Yeah but played last, to mostly empty rooms as everyone left after then-hot CYHSY. (That’s how it was at the Southgate House anyway.) How things change. Where is CYHSY these days? Meanwhile, the National are really gonna break big (for an indie-band, anyway) with their next album. (PS Cory, got your LinkedIn invite and finally accepted…. better late than never!)

  3. oops…. Clap Your HANDS (not heads, LOL)

  4. Well the schedule wasn’t listed on the website, and when I emailed them to ask, they said:

    “We are not giving out a schedule of the concert due to the alarming number of people that have shown their interest. However, we hope that you will join us for this event and enjoy all that the rally has to offer. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

    So I didn’t know The Breeders went on first. Were they any good?

    Yes, the love for indie blog bands like CYHSY is fleeting. One day you’re raving about Bloc Party or The Walkmen, the next they’re releasing their second album and everyone’s moving on.

    I do wish The National success in moving up from 600 person clubs (Southgate House, Headliners) to 2000 person clubs (Bogarts, City Block), but it is kind of weird that that’s as big as a indie rock band can go these days.

  5. Excellent review for an excellent show. Thank you so much for the pictures.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. I got here directly from The National’s website, which directs you to brassland, which then it says in bold print Okay, hell yeah, that’s all, congrats guys. I mean The National is like in my top 3, so the fact that their website led me back to you, well, awwww.

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