Review: The National

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The National at the Alexandra Palace, 14/11/13

The National’s second night playing London at the Alexandra Palace was another sell-out show. The Alexandra Palace was a fascinating place, and a trek to get to. After a ten minute uphill, breathless climb I finally made it to the ‘people’s palace’; a place able to accommodate a capacity of 10,400 people.

The support band This Is The Kit took the stage at exactly 7.30, playing a 40 minute set, full of folky and gentle tunes. It was a peculiar choice as support band for the National, they soaked themselves in predicable and easy-listening styles. Despite tight musicianship, very rarely did I feel challenged, and this was what maybe made the crowd even more impatient for the National to come and play.

After a half hour switch-over the National took the stage. They blitzed through songs from all their albums (making sure to leave no stone unturned) with very little free time in between them. Despite now reaching mainstream success the National have maintained their humility and are still very much an introverted band. There is a true attraction in their modesty (Bono isn’t here) and it is what makes the music even more engaging and sublime.

The National do however know how to perfect the art of dynamics on stage. It was an extraordinarily well-picked selection and order of songs. From silence to screaming and back to silence again, this translated wonderfully on stage. The live band set-up also allowed me to pick up on string, brass and guitar lines that normally get lost in the lo-fi qualities they still retain in their recordings. The highlight for me was being able to hear the trombones in ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ so very clearly.

Matt Berninger (lead singer) looked like a mad scientist with his new glasses; pacing the stage from left to right, banging his microphone on his head, racing into the crowd as if to claim some kind of a “Eureka” moment during the song ‘Mr. November’, it was all in the manner of a catharsis we can see he gets from performing.

For a nearly 2 hour set, the night moved quickly and showed just how enjoyable and engaging The National are as a band who put on real shows of quality which showcase their sound and ideas in music-making. It is something that should not be missed.

[HB]

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