The National – August 19, 2011 – Divadlo Archa – Prague, Czech Republic

Wednesday night, Brooklyn’s The National took a brief break from their European festival tour and played the Archa Theater in downtown Prague.  The Archa is a great venue and reminds me of a compact version of DC’s legendary 9:30 Club.  When great bands like The National come to Prague to play, I love the place even more.

The National put on a solid, dynamic, atmospheric show from the word go.  Beginning with the muted “Runaway” they played a sampling from their past four albums plus the new “Exile Vilify.”  The National aren’t a “mosh pit” kind of band so there was a lot of vigorous head nodding and toe-tapping during the set.  That said, songs like “Mr. November” and “Mistaken for Strangers” elicited some serious crowd sing-alongs and a generous serving of fist-pumps from the mellow Czech/expat crowd.

The band obviously enjoyed itself and sprinkled its set with amusing stage banter.  Lead singer, Matt Beringer channeled his inner-1908’s Bono and descended into the crowd on two occasions for a sing-along – side by side with the people who had come to see the band.  The second time it happened, it was during the acoustic guitar adorned (and microphoneless) “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, a song that up to that point, I hadn’t paid much attention to.  The tune definitely benefited from the stripped down and up close and personal treatment.

The band really delivered at this show.  They crafted a perfectly paced setlist with just enough crescendo to keep it interesting all while keeping their dark, moody melodic groove intact.  It was great to see one of America’s best bands conquer one of the capitals of Europe.

The Cult – August 10, 2010 – Divadlo Archa – Prague, Czech Republic

I’ve seen The Cult live about five times in the last fifteen years and this was the best they’ve ever sounded.  The Astbury-Duffy team has looked a bit more fighting fit in previous outings but heck, they must be pushing 50 these days.  And let’s face it, none of us look like we did 15 years ago.  But enough of the image, The Cult was clearly in Prague to ROCK.

And rock they did.  For a lightning paced 90 minutes, the band tore through a set that included highlights from the majority of their albums (with special emphasis on Love and Electric) and even one new song.  It sounds trite, but they played this show like it could be their last.  Heck, maybe that’s because they thought it was.  Ever the showman, Ian Astbury riffed between songs about Western Europe liking cocaine and Eastern Europe liking poetry (punctuating the sentence with a sniff).   Shortly after that, he spoke of being in Czechoslovakia.  So, yeah, maybe he expected the StB to come kicking down the doors and have him thrown in the slammer for excessive fist-pumping rock shamanism or something.

Either way, the show was incredible.  The band was tight and for this body pushing 40, the length of the set was just about right.  My t-shirt was sweat-soaked by the end of the set, my throat is pretty raw this morning and my shoulder is sore from an hour-and-a-half of throwing my fist in the air with rock and roll horns raised.  I’d say everyone there was pretty blown away, too.  The roars from the crowd fed the band.  At one point after a particularly raucous reaction from the crowd, Astbury proclaimed, “I think we like it here.”

Welcome to Czechoslovakia, Mr. Astbury.