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Video Finds: The National Deliver Unplugged Magic

The National are a band with an unimpeachable sense for orchestral, classical beauty.

I’m not talking about an Yngwie Malmsteen type, let me show you epically I can shred in a classical scale sense.

They recognize that the most powerful emotions can almost always be conveyed through other, more subtle channels. At their best, they are a band that presents you with a loaded image.

The band’s impeccable rhythm section works perfectly in tandem with the band’s twin-brother guitarists, Bryce and Aaron Dessner, and the band’s unmistakable singer, Matt Berninger. Their songs are stirring, deeply layered and emotionally complicated.

They’re a band that could only hail from New York. New York is often just as much of a character in their songs as the people themselves. Rainy, impossibly large and daunting and yet somehow claustrophobic, the National at their finest provide an ultra-clear portrait of a grayscale city that always seems to keep its cards hidden.

So, take away all the layers of the studio, and what does that leave you? As it turns out, The National are just as emotionally stunning in an unplugged setting.

Check out The National unplugged:


The dazzling open notes of “This Is the Last Time” tell you all you need to know. The ultra-intimate setting brings out the direct language of Berninger’s lyrics, laying them bare and out in the open. Even more so than the other three songs off of their most recent album, Trouble Will Find Me, that they play in this session, “This Is the Last Time” shines without electricity.

Not that the other three songs come up short or anything. “I Need My Girl” is as simple and beautiful a love song as you will ever hear. The emotional tug of Berninger’s longing lyrics is all the more palpable in the video, accented by the song’s brilliantly simple riff.

More piano-driven, “Pink Rabbits” is beautifully resigned, as Berninger addresses the main character of the song, asking them directly “am I the one you think about when you’re sitting in fainting chair drinking pink rabbits?”

Even the hard-rocking “Sea of Love” translates brilliantly into acoustic form, with the song’s show-stopping bridge made all the more hushed with the acoustics.

The National are a band that work well in every setting, and even without the studio mastery that has made their discography one of the most formidable in rock music, they shine as one of rock’s brightest lights. This acoustic mini-concert is something special, and a fantastic example of a band perfectly translating their songs across the musical spectrum.

See more of The National here

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Jackson is an Associate Editor at He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.