Last Night: The National at White Oak Music Hall

Matt Berninger of The National, with Kate Stables and Mina Tindle
Matt Berninger of The National, with Kate Stables and Mina Tindle Photo by Eric Sauseda
The National
White Oak Music Hall
September 11, 2019

Matt Berninger's voice sounds like a stiff drink. His gruff baritone has been likened to bourbon, and he typically serves it neat.

But on his band's latest record — and its accompanying tour, which visited Houston's White Oak Music Hall on Wednesday night — Berninger surrounded himself with a talented cast of female musicians who breathed new life into The National's gloomy aesthetic.

On I Am Easy To Find, the group's eighth outing, the frontman sang alongside more than half a dozen women, two of whom - Kate Stables and Mina Tindle - also joined The National on tour in support of the album. It made for a compelling listen, both on wax and in person.

Berninger being Berninger, he couldn't help but take a few friendly shots at his guests. After thanking them for their contributions to both the record and the tour, he added, "They did make a few errors though, so this next one's dedicated to them," at which point the band segued into "Guilty Party."

Later, Stables and Tindle took center stage during "Where Is Her Head," which highlighted their voices and barely featured Berninger at all. Not one to be left out, the eccentric frontman jumped into the crowd during "The Day I Die," where he made a beeline for two young fans who were sitting on their fathers' shoulders. "Those are good dads over there," he said later from the stage.

For The National, Wednesday night felt especially lighthearted. Berninger, Stable and Tindle poked at each other throughout the evening, and the entire band shared a laugh at the frontman's expense when a bug flew into his mouth and down his throat right before "Baby, We'll Be Fine."

The jovial atmosphere notwithstanding, The National's dreary shtick was in full effect when the band was performing, and anyone looking into the crowd could see fans reliving past breakups during the likes of "I Need My Girl" and "Pink Rabbits."

But despite all the forlorn lyrics, Wednesday evening felt warm and celebratory. Given that it was the last date for the band's latest tour and might have be the last time The National will share time onstage with Stables and Tindle, it very well may have been a much deserved victory lap for the bleak rockers.

Anguish abounded, but just about everyone in attendance and onstage seemed to be enjoying it all the same.

Random Notebook Dump:
About halfway through the show, Stables and Tindle switched outfits. I wouldn't have noticed had it not been for my wife and two friends, who pointed it out to me, using photos from their phones as proof. Almost on cue, as if they'd heard us discussing it, they swapped ensembles again shortly after we noticed.

Quiet Light
Hey Rosey
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Guilty Party
So Far So Fast
Where Is Her Head
Baby, We'll Be Fine
I Need My Girl
This Is The Last Time
Day I Die
The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness
Pink Rabbits
Light Years
You Had Your Soul With You
Hard To Find
I Am Easy To Find
Terrible Love

Not In Kansas
Mr. November
Fake Empire
About Today
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
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Matt is a regular contributor to the Houston Press’ music section. He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in print journalism and global business. Matt first began writing for the Press as an intern, having accidentally sent his resume to the publication's music editor instead of the news chief. After half a decade of attending concerts and interviewing musicians, he has credited this fortuitous mistake to divine intervention.
Contact: Matthew Keever