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The National cleans up

Filed under: Music — Thomas @ 20:16


I am in Belgium this weekend for mostly one reason: The National were playing the AB, and it's probably the last time I will see them in a smaller-than-2000-people venue. I actually had tickets to see Arcade Fire in Barcelona this same evening - but since they were going to play a 10.000 people venue, I preferred to go see the National instead.

For some reason this year the band really broke through. The concert was sold out in a day, and I've been getting asked by a lot of friends if I had any spare tickets. "But you're always buying extra tickets for shows and you didn't for this one ?" Yes, well, how could I know that out of all the bands I like you'd pick this one to like too ?

The boards were filled with requests for tickets, outside of the venue the streets were full of people asking if anyone had any left. It was one of those concerts booked right before a band jumps to the next level, and played when they've made the jump.

But I digress. High Violet didn't grab me as much as Boxer did - although I don't know if it's because of the anticipation or because Boxer is actually better. I got lost in Boxer for two months straight.

When I saw them in London at the beginning of their tour they were just as good as any other time, but it was obvious the new songs weren't road-tested yet and didn't fit into the set that well yet. It wasn't for lack of trying - I remember Matt climbing off stage, into the audience, and then up the rafters of the Royal Albert Hall. They just didn't have the sound of the new songs down yet live.

This summer at Pukkelpop was good too, but a band like the National really needs a dark closed room.

I missed the Club 69 National concert of a few weeks ago - I have to admit I would have killed to have been there, but my life has changed now...

And then yesterday hit. Their sound was spot-on right from the beginning. This was the first show I've seen without Padma. His duties were mostly taken over either by the horn section (which was beautiful) or by Aaron or Bryce taking over keys. Matt was in great form, Aaron spoke French a lot and Matt interrupted him continuously. At one point Matt asked Aaron 'say something in French again, it sounds so cool' so Aaron thanked us in French, the audience cheered, and Matt said something like 'I don't know what you said, but you really brought it home.'

Really good set list too - finally got to hear Daughters of the SoHo Riots, which was beatiful live. They surprised me by throwing out Available/Cardinal Song from Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers. I would have gone with Slipping Husband (which I only recently learnt has a small snippet of 'Don't forget the alcohol, ooh baby' as a nod to Afghan Whigs' 'Milez iz Ded') myself, but hey, Sad Songs has a few gems on it and this was one of them.

Glad to hear About Today again, that song just hurts in all the right places. Right before K broke up with me I made a mix CD, and a live version of this song is on there, for the fantastic line of 'How close am I/to losing you?' Very, it turned out a few weeks later. A gentle wind of a song that picks up steam in the end and explodes into a gutwrenching whirlwind.

This must be the first National show I saw where they didn't play Abel. I'd gladly trade the excellent Mr November for Abel any day.

All the High Violet songs have evolved live, all for the better. Some new guitar lines in some of the songs, a better drum pattern, whatever they did, it worked. My personal favorite, Conversation 16, sounded excellent. Matt's intro was hilarious - he said something like 'This song is about cannibalism. Most of the lyrics were written by my wife. When she was in college she ate people. I'm cool with it. It's good she's not here today.'

Fake Empire was beautiful with the horns. Aaron played both the waltz and 4/4 bits with both hands, I have no idea how a human being can keep up two different rhythms like that, and it looked awesome.

They ended with an acoustic version (no mikes!) of Vanderlylle Cry Baby, probably my least favourite song on the album, but it worked very well like this, and the audience sang along the whole song.

Last week in Barcelona I went to see Greg Dulli in a 250 people club and got to talking to their webdesigner, who asked me what else I was going to see soon. When I mentioned the National, he said 'Oh, they're great, they played here, once for 25 people and once for 60 people'. Jesus Christ - I wish I'd been there.

I'll probably next see them in May 2011 when they play Primavera festival in Barcelona.

If you get a chance to go see the National live, make sure you do - they are at the top of their game right now. I'd love to hear more Alligator or even some more stray first two album tracks, but my mistake for missing out for so long.


  1. And you did well… Arcade fire are great music wise, not bad on stage, but as far as i’m concerned way too professional : no room for improvisation… And indeed, in front of a 10 000+ crowd in a huge venue definitely not built for concerts, you lose so much.
    Disappointed overall.

    Comment by Kevin — 2010-11-23 @ 10:19

  2. Weird. I arrived here via Planet Fedora and I also love The National and went to RAH in May.

    Thanks for a great review which wets my appetite for the two National gigs in Brixton I am going to see next week.

    Comment by Andy C — 2010-11-24 @ 16:32

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