Tonight was a special night for The National. It was the culmination of two years worth of touring on their Trouble Will Find Me LP, which has seen them play across the globe to thousands and thousands of adoring fans. The National are not a stadium band. They write music which works its way into your life in a slow, unobtrusive way, the very definition of (and I hate to write this) a band that grow on you.
They are as unlikely a stadium act as Bon Iver (who oddly took that leap on their previous UK jaunt). Sat in the stadium, looking around I see posters for Fleetwood Mac, Take That and Lionel Richie (the unholy trifecta), odd company for an introvert band of outcasts from New York. The National truly stepped up, as soon as ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ kicked in, the show was a series of ever increasing feats of taught, coiled melodrama mixed with explosive catharsis. How wonderful a sight to see so many (the show was a sellout, or as near as dammit as I could see) singing along to songs so clearly personal but without the bluster of typical stadium fare. I can’t think of any other band around at the moment that occupy the same kind of territory, with the same mass appeal, albeit mass appeal that’s been hard won over the course of many years.
After ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’, the band hurtle into ‘I Should Live In Salt’, arguably the best thing they’ve done, and I say hurtle as it’s almost twice the speed as we’re accustomed to, possibly due to excitement? The highlights come thick and fast, I won’t list the set, that dearest reader is but a click away, but there are blistering versions of material from across their catalogue.
There’s a propulsive, throbbing ‘All The Wine’ from Alligator, a beautiful rendition of ‘About Today’ the gentle ballad from The Cherry Tree EP which is rarely aired and ‘Slow Show’, the highlight from the bands The Boxer LP. As soon as the opening piano notes of ‘England’ begin, there isn’t a neck hair in the arena that’s remained untroubled. ‘Graceless’ sends a now already completely standing audience into a sea of arms and communal singing. Speaking of which, the climactic ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ receives its usual end of set, camp fire sing-along. We’re not in the O2 anymore. We’re in our own heads, where we first heard these songs, where they first moved us. My mum, a relatively recent convert grasped onto Matt as he ran past singing ‘Terrible Love’, a very surreal, very funny moment but testament to the level of adoration they inspire. A shame then that they will unlikely be back on these shores for another few years.
Words: Christopher Anderson.