The National and Patti Smith at Bud Stage

The Punk Queen joins the Indie Kings on tour.



Miles away, literally and figuratively from where The National‘s relationship with Toronto started at the Horseshoe Tavern back in 2005, the Cincinnati band of dad rockers packed in thousands of their kind at Budweiser Stage on August 20. In support of their ninth studio album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein, the first leg of The National’s North American tour began in Chicago in May and ended in early June, peppering in festival stops along the way. Off for July, the tour resumed in August and ended right here in Toronto at Budweiser Stage. Ensuring a special end to the tour, 15,000 or so Toronto fans got a show that featured hometown (and ADDICTED Music Dept.) favourite U.S. Girls and the legendary Patti Smith for her first show here in a decade.

Playing in the bright sun brings a slew of alternate vibes to any performance, however, for Meg Remy and her U.S. Girls crew, the early set time allowed Remy’s young children to see mom at work.

Second on the bill, and for quite a few, the sole reason to attend the show was the revered, inimitable punk poet, Patti Smith. Along with her original Patti Smith Band members Lenny Kaye, on guitar and Jay Dee Daugherty, on drums, longtime bassist/keyboardist Tony Shanahan, and her son, Jackson Smith on lead guitar, it was her first proper gig in Toronto in over a decade. Unfortunately, only a fractional portion of ticketholders of the show were in attendance, barely filling the first two sections of the amphitheater bowl. It was their loss, missing the power and emotion Patti Smith put into her performance. Walking out smiling, clad in her standard Ann Demeulemeester black jacket, the band struck up People Have The Power from 1988’s Dream of Life. Pouring it all out, Smith turned the chorus into a blend of a chant and battle cry. Showing her poetic pedigree, a photo of a young Allen Ginsburg appeared on the backline screen as Smith donned a pair of glasses and pulled out a copy of the New York Beat poet’s Howl to recite Footnote To Howl unaccompanied. Waiting Underground from her 1997 album Peace and Noise followed, along with Television’s Guiding Light highlighted with a backdrop of the recently passed Tom Verlaine. Next was a song some unfamiliar may have vaguely recognized as Because The Night was co-written with Bruce Springsteen, who turned it into a powerful live staple with his E Street Band. After playing Nine from her last album, Banga, Dancing Barefoot started. An oft-covered song, performed by everyone from U2 to Pearl Jam, First Aid Kit to Simple Minds, it was one that the uninitiated likely recognized. On a personal note, my first listen was from The Mission’s recording on their 1987 The First Chapter compilation album, and became one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar and sing. It’s still one of my all-time favourite songs. Fist in the air, Smith introduced Beneath the Southern Cross announcing “This is a song to life., the best fucking thing we have!” Hard to argue with those words. The song featured Jackson Smith and bassist Tony Shanahan adding in Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone From The Sun. All but Smith and Shanahan left the stage where the two performed a dramatic voice and piano rendition of Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush. With Smith’s voice breaking into a sob on the last line of “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st Century”, she proved yet again, in case there was any doubt that she is real as fuck and relentless in delivering her message. Smith and band showed endless spark and movement despite their median age hovering in the 70s. Smith was spry and energetic, jogging on the spot to the beat. Drummer Jay Dee Daugherty possessed the power of a drummer half his age, while Lenny Kaye exuded rock and roll cool above any of the assorted hipster dads in the crowd. I’m allowed to say that, I am an admitted hipster dad. Closing the show with her take on Them’s Gloria from her 1975 classic Horses, Smith delivered her added line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” While I assume everyone who arrived early to catch Patti Smith and her band was familiar and willing, there were likely more who discovered her punk poet brilliance that hasn’t diminished in 50 years. I don’t know if I’ll see another show this year that comes close to this one.


As the late summer sun fell and the lights of the nearby BMO Field and CNE formed a backdrop to Budweiser Stage, The National walked onstage to the loud cheers of 15,000 fans. As a fairweather fan of the band’s music, I didn’t realize the intensity of The National fans nor did I know that the band mixes up their setlists a fair bit and even dynamically jams somewhat onstage. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise as twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner serve not only as guitarists, keyboardists, and background singers but also as the main songwriters and producers for The National and have long streaks of experimentation, composition, and improvisation. As well, the other set of brothers, drummer Bryan Devendort and bassist Scott were teenage (gulp) Deadheads. Yes, I will take any opportunity to mention the Grateful Dead.

Opening what would be a long set just breaking two hours in length with Once Upon A Poolside from the latest album. It’s a moody song that in part details Berninger’s pre-album depression that stalled his ability to write lyrics or melodies for The First Two Pages of Frankenstein. The new album featured in the first four songs of the set with Eucalyptus, Tropic Morning News, and New Order T-Shirt being played in that order. Berninger put a little extra oomph in delivering the line ‘What about the Cowboy Junkies?” to their hometown crowd. The multi-instrumentalist pair of Ben Lanz on trombone and keyboards and Kyle Resnick on trumpet, keys, and vocals (and I swear I saw another guitar back there at times) add an extra dimension to the songs. Playing at times in a four-part harmony with the electric guitars, there was a highly compositional element to their inclusion. There’s no doubt about the visual importance the band puts on their album artwork, their merch, and their stage show. For this tour, an overhead grid was composed of 28 lit squares containing smart lights within. The same square theme was onstage with another row at the backline and at the edges of the stage. Square LEDs stood as footlights and created a dazzling light show. Many times during breaks in songs, Matt Berninger thanked both U.S. Girls and Patti Smith for opening the show. It was clear that the band are huge fans of both. But by bringing the esteemed Smith and band on tour, they showed their respect by introducing her music to a larger audience who may have been unaware.

Strolling back to Trouble Will Find Me, Don’t Swallow The Cap was the first song of the night to get an active, loud response and asses shaking. Followed up with Bloodbuzz Ohio, the crowd remained engaged singing along and dancing. To this note, The National’s upbeat songs are driven hard by some surprisingly grooved drumming from Bryan Devendort. Seeing thousands of fans dance to relatively sleepy indie rock demonstrated an element of the band I hadn’t realized previously. Ignoring their first two and the next to last albums, the setlist touched on each of the others but almost half of the 25 songs played focused on the latest and their 201o breakthrough, High Violet. However, fan faves like I Need My Girl and Fake Empire, pulled the crowd up. This being said, The National’s more aggressive, angular, and jagged songs like Abel, Smoke Detector, and the tour debut of Turtleneck showed some separation from the casual and obsessive fans. Wisely, the band would return to swayalong, singalong saddies like Pink Rabbits and About Today to reunite the entire crowd. After a not-too-quick break, The National returned for a five-song encore, taking the show right up to the 11 PM curfew. Beginning with the great new single, Weird Goodbyes, they segued to Mr. November and Terrible Love before playing another new one, Space Invader. A front-row fan caught Berninger’s eye with a sign that read ’37 SHOWS, from ZAGREB’. He was smiling as he took it as a personal souvenir. To close the tour and the night in Toronto, Matt Berninger said ‘Thanks so much, you can help us sing this one” before Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks began. All members took to the front of the stage with the Dessners playing acoustic guitars while the audience sang a beautiful rendition of the song. With a final thank you, The National walked off to the cheers of a spent, happy Toronto audience.

Following their Homecoming Festival in Cincinnati on Sept. 15 and 16, The National heads out for a dozen or so European dates before returning stateside with shows in California and Texas. More info can be found here.

Aron Harris
Aron Harris is ADDICTED Magazine's music editor as well as a contributor. As a graphic designer, writer and photographer, you can find his work all over ADDICTED. He also geeks out over watches, pizza, bass guitars and the Grateful Dead.
Aron Harris

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