The National’s fourth album Boxer arrived during my second year living in New York City, and I owe so many incredible NYC moments to it. Released on the cusp of summer in 2008, the punchy concept album was the band’s breakthrough, catapulting the Brooklyn-dwelling quintet from a lucky record store find to best-of-the-year lists and indie rock prominence.
Witty, well-rounded and addictive, Boxer was my partner in crime as I got to know the city. From wine-filled dance parties with newfound friends in my Hell’s Kitchen apartment to dashing about town to see my beloved band light up Manhattan, I can’t separate The National from my New York experience. I giddily tagged along as the band’s popularity soared.
I sometimes wonder if I made it all up because I couldn’t have wished for anything more impossible. But, in the span of a few months, I saw The National play South Street Seaport, Late Show with David Letterman, United Palace Theater, SummerStage in Central Park, multiple nights at Bowery Ballroom and even Columbia University. If you’re ever curious about my fervent passion for The National, all these remarkable encounters are a huge reason why.
It all started at Mezzanine in San Francisco in 2005. The National were technically headlining, but weren’t nearly as widely known as opener Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (funny how time has a way of working things out!). Most of the crowd had dissipated by the time The National took the stage. But, the universe had serendipitously gifted me Alligator, their third album, and I was there to casually investigate this mysterious, new discovery.
It was only a matter of minutes until I was wholly taken. As an album, Alligator had grown on me over time, quietly nibbling into my inner thoughts in the wee hours. But The National live—polished, commanding and ever-so-slightly awkward—were an immediate revelation. As my neurons fired and my body swayed, I knew I’d come upon something incredibly special. In the space of that introductory show, my fate as a lifelong fan of The National was sealed.
This is all to say, my opinion of Boxer Live In Brussels is absolutely biased and there’s no way around it. Recorded at the end of their 2017 European tour, the live album marks the 10-year anniversary of Boxer with a comprehensive performance of the album’s twelve compact tracks. Boxer Live In Brussels was originally released in April of this year as an exclusive Record Store Day vinyl offering, with a wider release coming to fruition last month. Fittingly, the celebratory album, with its rainbow-suffused variation of the original Boxer artwork, is a treat for hardcore fans. My only minor gripe is that the album showcases the 2017 versions of the songs, which aren’t necessarily the way they sounded back in 2007.
Despite this incongruity, Boxer Live In Brussels is an intoxicating ride that showcases both the spellbinding talents of this masterful band and the effervescent enthusiasm they evoke among the crowd. If you’ve never had the privilege of seeing The National perform, step one is to quickly correct that grand omission. Step two is to tuck into their seven-album studio repertoire. Step three will follow all too naturally, and soon you’ll be bouncing around in virtual Brussels just like me.
Notable Tracks: “Brainy” | “Fake Empire” | “Gospel” | “Slow Show” | “Squalor Victoria”