The National

O2 Academy, Bristol on Wed 24th Nov 2010

2010 has been a year in which X-Factor continued the relentless cementing of its grip on the national consciousness and monopoly on the singles charts, while Kings Of Leon served up another album of bloated, plodding stadium-fillers, which was lovingly grasped to the nation's collective bosom.

Against this rising tide of lumpen mediocrity, the ascent to prominence of The National has been a heartening sign that there is space within the mainstream for something a little more cerebral.

A universally-acclaimed Glastonbury performance, an album - 'High Violet' - which achieved no little commercial success, selling 51,000 copies in the week of release, and a gargantuan year-long tour, which will have seen them play 130 shows in 24 countries by its conclusion next May, are testament to a band being recognised after a decade spent toiling away on the fringes.

This Bristol show sold out in August, and the O2 Academy is heaving, with every gangway and staircase filled to health and safety-bothering levels.

'High Violet' showcased wry, observational writing, meticulous and assured musicianship and in Matt Berninger an effortlessly charismatic frontman with a wonderfully lazy, yet captivating, crooned drawl. In short, The National have become the natural successors to R.E.M.'s crown as America's thinking man's supergroup.

Tonight's set is further evidence of a band brimming with self belief. Berninger arrives in an immaculate three-piece suit, unfolds a setlist, produced from his top pocket, and the Ohio-born five-piece open with the mournful, achingly beautiful 'Runaway' – the most downbeat, delicate track on 'High Violet'.

90 minutes later, the whole band are gathered tightly together at the front of the stage, all amps switched off, reducing 1,600 people to a stunned, respectful silence with an acoustic version of 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks'.

Opening and closing the show with such gentle, understated material illustrates the strident assurance they possess, with the two songs bookmarking a set full of regal quality, delivered with inscrutable composure.

Drawing heavily on 'High Violet', they follow the opening track with 'Anyone's Ghost', the stage bathed in green halogens, with a two-piece horn section pouring further majesty over the waves of angular tremolo-coated chords wrung out of Bryce Dessner's Fender Jazzmaster.

As Boxer's 'Mistaken For Strangers' powers into its New Order-like instrumental section, off-beat snare-heavy drumming, stabbing guitar, and the brass section collide to produce a wonderfully epic, heady noise.

The breathless, back-of-the-throat mumble of the opening verse of 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' gives way to a triumphant chorus, strobes kick in and for the first time a disappointingly static crowd begin to reciprocate some of the energy being displayed onstage.

The yearning romance of 'Slow Show' threatens to fall flat, without the striding pomp of the grand piano chords present on the recorded version until the huge, meaty toms power through and it becomes an urgent and celebratory version of a beautifully naïve, bittersweet love song. Everything the Brooklyn-based band turn their hand to is done with patience and calm assurance.

Berninger, however, always appears a complex character, never far from the edge, and true-to-form he becomes restless during 'Squalor Victoria', howling out the chorus and leaving no inch of the stage un-paced, as he tries to eke out more enthusiasm from this docile audience. Now drowned in yellow light, High Violet's grand, epic stand-out track – the brooding, paranoid 'Afraid Of Everyone' sees him delivering the last verse from atop a monitor, pouring out the final words over lashings of screeching feedback.

The Barack Obama-endorsed 'Fake Empire' is disappointingly truncated and again sounds thin and vulnerable without the piano that lends such elegance to the version recorded on 'Boxer', but the band continue to trawl tirelessly through a back catalogue rich in quality.

Delving into an encore, 'Mr November', from 2005's 'Alligator', is one of the evening's highlights, with Berninger increasingly manic, testing the boundaries of the Academy stage and screaming forth the insistent chorus with real vitriol.

'Terrible Love's' shimmering tremolo intro is built up, with their trademark patience, into a towering crescendo, the besuited frontman finally breaking the fourth wall and disappearing over the heads of security stage left, adding one more body to an already shoe-horned crowd. Despite the sweaty chaos surrounding him, Berninger continues delivering the lyrics with his usual poise and finesse.

He eventually prises himself away from his admirers, clambers back onto the stage, now stripped down his waistcoat and, silhouetted against a stark, royal blue backdrop, The National switch off their amps, gather together and wait, patiently of course, for the Academy to fall silent for their closing song. Blissful.

article by: Gary Walker

published: 26/11/2010 12:35


sorry, we currently have no gigs listed for this act.