The National were back in London this week to tour their 2013 album Trouble Will Find Me. Buster Stonham was on hand to witness another spine-tingling performance from the Ohio band.
Alexandra Palace was purpose built to make the first ever TV broadcast, but it could just as easily have been designed as the perfect venue for The National. Perched on a hill in leafy North London, the Palace’s beautifully decorated main hall fits perfectly with The National’s slick style and cultured sound. The crowd at tonight’s gig seem intent to mirror this style. Most are dressed slightly smarter than the average gig goer, sporting either designer handbags or facial hair.
In an interview with Lauren Laverne on BBC 6Music, lead singer Matt Berninger noted the band’s surprise at the size of the venue. But the Brooklyn based outfit are easily able to fill it, both in terms of numbers and their sound. Their two nights at the venue sold out weeks ago and tonight the crystal clear sound system allows you to hear the band’s richly layered sound, with Berninger’s baritone voice grumbling over the top. The National have been touring relentlessly over the past few years, playing numerous shows in North America for their previous album, High Violet, and now a string of sold out European dates for 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me.
The crowd are treated to a mammoth two and a half hour set heavily dominated by material from their new album. Opening tracks ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ and the exquisite ‘I Should Live in Salt’, both from TWFM, make it immediately clear that this will be a special evening. Playing nine tracks from their latest album is something of a risk, but the energy the band puts into them and the appreciation they receive shows the strength of the song-writing on Trouble Will Find Me, which will undoubtedly be featuring on many “album of the year” lists come December.
New material is accompanied by crowd pleasing classics including ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and main set closer ‘Fake Empire’. Many of these tracks are performed in a higher, rockier tempo style than they are on the album versions. Normally dark and brooding songs like ‘Squalor Victoria’ and ‘Terrible Love’ become uplifting anthems, revealing the confidence of a band not afraid to re-imagine themselves.
Throughout the second half Berninger and guitarist Aaron Dessner joke with the crowd, at one point dedicating a song to a long time supporter of the band, who Berninger quipped was “the only person who bought our first album.” During ‘Graceless’ Matt Berninger dives into the crowd, emerging with suit jacket and glasses looking more dishevelled than before. The musicianship on show is also brilliant, backed up by the venue’s impressive sound system and Berninger’s superb voice.
For the finale the speakers are ditched for an acoustic, singalong version of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’. With the crowd singing back every word, it produces a genuinely spine-tingling moment. What this performance shows above all else is that The National are a group totally at ease with both the music they are making and their status as one of the best bands in the world right now.