The National: A Skin, A Night & The Virginia EP

The National: A Skin, A Night & The Virginia EP

The DVD/CD set A Skin, A Night & The Virginia EP positions an hourlong documentary as the star of the show, but the album's worth of extra music is what should ultimately sell it. A Skin, A Night was shot and directed by French filmmaker Vincent Moon, who found Internet fame with a series of "Take Away Shows" featuring bands playing stripped-down songs in unusual, intimate settings—Arcade Fire in an elevator, R.E.M. in a car, The National around a table. There's no denying he has an incredible eye and sensibility, but The National recording the dark, elegant Boxer apparently didn't offer much story arc. There are hints of tension and doubt, but mostly A Skin, A Night offers a pretty, artsy, slightly boring hour of conversations, live performances, and recording sessions.

The Virginia EP, on the other hand, makes a good case for why anyone would want to make a movie about The National in the first place. The band has been cresting for three years, and it's at a point where even the demos, B-sides, and covers could switch places with singles, and fans would be just as happy. "You've Done It Again, Virginia" would've fit snugly on Alligator or Boxer: It's all molasses, smoke, and muted horns. It's the first and best track on the 50-minute disc, which also gathers more unreleased studio tracks, demos (a markedly different "Slow Show"), and even a version of Bruce Springsteen's "Mansion On The Hill." It ends, as National concerts do, with an epic version of the gorgeous "About Today," whose transformation from sad and sorry to fraught and overwhelming perfectly distills the band's swirling mix of light and dark.

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