Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
When I was a little kid I used to come to New York City during this time of year to visit my grandparents. I remember bundling up in the British navy peacoat my mom made me wear and walking past the elaborate holiday displays in the windows of the big department stores uptown. Entire miniature snowy villages constructed to show off jewelry at Tiffany’s or Bruno Magli pumps (hey, it was the ’80s) at Barneys. In my memory this was a very special tradition, something the entire family flew across the country to partake in. And it left an impression; I still love overpriced footwear and the spectacle of the holiday season. It makes me do decadent things, like take a cab just because I’m in heels, from an already unjustifiably elaborate sushi dinner in the West Village all the way uptown to the famed Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side to see the National. There’s just nothing glamorous and Christmas-y about taking the 9 train.
The members of the National aren’t originally from New York — they’re from Ohio, but they formed the band here in 1999. I’ve always thought that in a weird way makes them even more authentically of the city. They know what it’s like to have lusted after a life here, and have built a creative identity as indelibly connected to the maudlin romance of urban life as any born and bred native could. As such, they know this is the official holiday party week, an annual gauntlet of events where you drink too much spiced rum and eat too many iced sugar cookies and in your boozy sugar high state say and do inappropriate things to/with colleagues and friends. In what can only be described as a thoughtful move, the National have tried to save us from ourselves by booking a full week of shows at the elegant Beacon Theater, a venue that encourages grown-up, responsible joy.
The gig on Tuesday night was exactly the right kind of wholesome fun. Attended primarily by well-heeled couples in their late 30s, I felt like I’d been invited to a cocktail party from my future. Everyone was sipping beers but not getting sloshed and jovially bantering back-and-forth with frontman Matt Berninger and the ever chatty and charming twins Bryce and Aaron Dessner. “This is for the Allman Brothers,” Berninger said, referring to the legendary country rock band’s epic two-week stints at the Beacon over the years. “Actually, no, fuck the Allman Brothers, this is for my wife.” Then the National launched into the band’s brand new track, “I Need My Girl.” Opener (and mournful folk rock badass Sharon Van Etten) joined them onstage for a track or two, and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark appeared, all sequin-y in a cute holiday dress, for an absolutely stunning version of “Sorrow.” “I live in a city sorrow built/ It’s in my honey/ It’s in my milk” they sang. “… I don’t want to get over you.”
As I cabbed it back home post-show (the decadence!) we passed Lincoln Center, where some event was just letting out. Against the backdrop of a gigantic Christmas tree on display through floor-to-ceiling windows, women in gowns and men in tuxedos were filing into the open patio in front of the venue. Some friends were downtown at a swanky party they said was pretty fun but I knew I had to go home immediately and re-watch Moonstruck. I needed to see the look on Nicholas Cage’s face standing in front of Lincoln Center when he sees Cher post-makeover. “I love two things,” he says to her earlier in the film. “I love you and I love the opera. If I can have the two things that I love together for one night, I will be satisfied to give up the rest of my life.” I know the feeling. Zipping down Broadway in no traffic I felt like all I really need to be happy in life is the National, and an epic taxi budget.