The National frontman Matt Berninger seems to be doing pretty well under quarantine, all things considered. He’s rocking an impressive mustache. His hair seems to be keeping itself together. He’s finding ways to project smoldering intensity over a webcam, which cannot be easy. And most importantly, he’s keeping busy. Yesterday, Berninger’s friend Walter Martin, formerly of the Walkmen, shared the very funny circa-now anthem “Quarantine Boogie (Loco),” and Berninger sang backup on it. And last night, Berninger was the musical guest on the latest taped-from-home edition of Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.
Berninger recently announced that he’s working on a solo album called Serpentine Prison. It’ll be his first-ever solo LP, and he’s recording it with Memphis soul legend Booker T. Jones. When Berninger announced that album, it didn’t have a release date, and it seems unlikely to get one anytime soon. That must be frustrating! But on last night’s Colbert, Berninger didn’t sing a solo-album song. Instead, he did his lovely cover of “Holes,” the tremulous pysch-rock classic from Mercury Rev’s 1998 album Deserter’s Songs. Berninger’s cover recently appeared on a 7″ single to benefit Planned Parenthood. On Colbert, Berninger proved that he can conjure the towering majesty of the original with only the tiniest bit of instrumentation.
On Colbert, Berninger performed with his friend Stephen Altman, a film composer. (Altman, Berninger, and Julien Baker got together on the documentary-soundtrack song “All I Want” in 2018.) Berninger sang, Altman played piano, and Berninger did some tootling on an instrument that looks like a giant harmonica. Below, watch the performance and check out Mercury Rev’s original.
Did you know that Berninger’s name is pronounced “Burning-er”? I’ve definitely been saying “Burr-nin-jer” in my head all these years.