The National

There's something a little unusual about The National's rise to power as a festival-filling headline band; their sound is so hushed, so intimate, so suited to a guttering candle and a glass of Jack, that they seem unlikely as a live proposition. And in some ways this is a flaw. Get close enough to front man Matt Berninger's hunched, swaying body and you may well feel like the confidant to a beautiful and terrible secret, but standing near the £25 T-shirts at the back of a warehouse was a little like watching someone you don't know whisper to a friend about someone else you also don't know.The issue is probably that some of these songs are so unimpeachable in their recorded versions that there's very little Berninger and co and can alter about them in a live state; which makes large portions of the gig equivalent to listening to The National's albums at a louder than usual volume. When the songs are notably different, it's often due to the sudden appearance of Berninger's 'other voice'. While most singers slowly, perceptibly shift gears, Berninger leaps from his low, languid drawl to a feral bark that calls to mind a dog wrestling with a particularly juicy chicken drumstick. It doesn't always work, and it isn't always pretty. What does come over especially well in the performance is the mournful, swooning trumpet lines, higher and more stirring than in the recorded mix, and the military precision of the drumming, already the group's not-so-secret weapon. These help to bring tracks such as 'Squalor Victoria' and 'Afraid of Everyone' to big, booming life; the crowd are also engaged with quieter singalongs such as 'Slow Show' and, in a masterful closing touch, a wholly a cappella, audience-led take on 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks'. It's astounding to see this kind of reverent communion in a venue this size, and it illustrated just what makes The National so special – tiny melodies that, by force of repetition, become enormous; cryptic gem-like images; a kind of majestic restraint. It's a shame the whole show couldn't light up the room this way.

Reviews by Richard O'Brien

The Blurb

This critically acclaimed Brooklyn based five-piece finally return to the capital for a highly anticipated live show. Their live shows have been described as jaw dropping, beautiful and incredible.