How to gracefully dissapear in a room, or why The National live blew me away!

The National @ the Sydney City Recital Hall

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To badly paraphrase Spank Rock co-hort MC Amanda Blank, The National’s rhymes are painful and fresh. Where other bands and singer songwriters can accompany you into dark corners, or take the lid off your mind and tinker with the insides. The National seem to belong that group of bands that hold your adult hand, tell stories to which you can relate to, and show you all those the dark corners, in the millisecond before they switch the light on.

I was having a hard time trying to imagine or conceptualise the band playing their songs in all their deserved glory, a side effect of only hearing The National through speakers and headphones. Not to mention all the reviews I’ve read of their other Australian shows, which all made reference to the fact that something was missing. And because of the formal venue that the show would be a strictly sit down affair. So you can understand why I was slightly apprehensive about seeing them live.

I needn’t have worried. First off I had a bloody good seat, AAA 49= first row dead centre. There wasn’t much banter between songs, but what was said was pithy and enough. Odd venue is City Recital Hall sure it has some comfy seating throughout, but I think the band realised this, not the comfy seating, but that it was new kind of venue for them to play in with a seated sort of atmosphere, a fact that they mentioned. When I arrived and saw just how cavernous the City Recital Hall is, my first thought was how on earth are they going to fill this up. A more intimate, softer sounding band might have come undone, lost in all that space. But not The National.

Their songs have an epic wall of sound element to them, forever building in intensity, held together and almost encouraged by drummer Bryan Devendor’s powerful rhythms. Padma Newsome is a frenzied multi-instrumental (keyboard, piano, harmonium among others), violin playing mad man. While the three remaining members Aaron Dessner (guitar, bass, piano), Bryce Dessner (guitar), and Scott Devendorf (bass, guitar), give their all in creating these larger than life impressive guitars that give gravitas to singer Matt Berninger’s lyrics. And with all that accompanied by a horn, a clarinet, trumpet, and a bassoon, meant that by god we heard that wall. We heard right through the wall of sound and back again.

Matt Berninger may appear on-stage to be an almost reluctant and slightly angular front man, but that voice. That VOICE! That baritone voice, which just explodes and when heard live is so much more richer, gentler and full of intensity. That there is a real man, slugging down a bottle of vodka on stage, and doing his own version of the Thom dance*.

*Thom as in Thom Yorke from Radiohead who when playing live does this intense, but funny spazzy sort of tamborine dance.

The Setlist:

Start a war

Mistaken for Strangers

Secret Meeting

Brainy

Baby, We’ll be Fine

Slow Show

Squalor Victoria

The Geese of Beverly Road

Abel

Racing Like a Pro

Ada

Apartment Story

Green Groves

Fake Empire

Encore:

Gospel

Mr. November

About Today

LORD I wanted to stand up during the encore performance of Mr. November I really did, but I was held back by the fact that I would be blocking someone else’s view, and being one who hates view blockers, I chose not to be one myself. I chose wrong, so very very wrong. Especially when Matt decided to come down off the stage and sing right in the first row, crawl up and over both mine and my neighbours seats, and stand on top of them, before losing his balance and landing in some lucky blokes lap. Shame, it wasn’t a stand up venue, I read somewhere that has a habit of Matt crowd surfing during Mr. November.

Support act was sister band to The National, Clogs. They are musically sound, incredibly skilled, and seemed to have a hold on the audience, but I found my interest and attention waning as their set continued, so I guess I wont be going out to buy any Clogs albums any time soon.

The National left everyone reeling from awe and yet most certainly wanting a hell of a lot more. I honestly hope that they come back soon, so I can see them in a venue when I can stand up and don’t appear to be the only one in a row who is standing out, by visibly enjoying the show in just plain embarrassing fashion.

What. A. Night!

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