Gig review: The National, Enmore Theatre, 8/1/11

The National

The National, poorly photographed. Pic: Sevana Ohandjanian

I never thought moshing would be a concert activity for fans of The National. Sullen staring, sad singalongs, tears – all expected and awaited, but over 2000 fans jumping up and down, not so much. Therein lies the inherent beauty of this band: for songs so utterly heartbreaking, the live transformation is absolutely overwhelming in its energy and force.

The Middle East have been putting in the hard yards over the last couple of years, and a breakthrough feels imminent. Though I’ve never entirely understood their appeal nor connected to them during their live performances, they are able musicians with a steadily growing catalogue of songs sure to please the Angus & Julia Stone types who want more slow folk. If anything, their support slot lowered my expectations to the point where even if The National had appeared missing half of their band members, I would have been pleased.

Now as for that glorious, gorgeous, critically acclaimed group of men that make up The National: what can be said of them that hasn’t been breathlessly exalted by every passing fan thus far? They were impeccable, from start to finish. Having been round the block a few times they’re capable setlist fishermen; throwing out the bait of an opening Runaway, sinking it into the crowd with a brutally moving Anyone’s Ghost and reeling us in hook, line and sinker with a triple whammy of Boxer tracks, including Brainy.

Often it was the songs one least expected to make an impact that would be lifted beyond imaginable heights thanks to the irrepressibly charismatic voice of Matt Berninger; the careening smoothness transforming into a paralysing scream for the end of Squalor Victoria as he bounced to and fro with the mic stand, and the start of Abel.

The band were reassuringly lighthearted in the midst of their lofty emotional tunes, Aaron and Bryce Dessner keeping brotherly banter up with Berninger, especially after the latter entered the stage with a barrel roll. The bearded singer exercised his wine-encouraged eccentricities during England, leaping off stage and into the corner of the Enmore where I just happened to be standing. The thing that struck me the most while watching him perform next to the emergency fire hose – aside from the voice in my head that screamed ‘Matt Berninger is standing centimetres away from you!’ – is that his voice did not falter once. That velvet baritone stayed pitch perfect as his mic chord got passed over our heads and he raced through us like Moses parting the Red Sea.

The audience was incredibly devoted, crying out the requisite Conversation 16 line ‘cause I’m evil’ with required pathos and delving into deep tones for the cleverly worded Bloodbuzz Ohio and ‘I still owe money, to the money, to the money I owe.’

The band returned for a brief encore, shattering their Fake Empire exit with a manic Mr. November, before pulling out a special acoustic affair for the finale. The band stepped away from the mics and amps to perform Vandelyle Crybaby Geeks, and with a 2200 strong vocal backing, left us all feeling a little less alone and a lot more in love with The National than ever before.

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