by / May 15th, 2008 /

The National, Olympia Theatre

Last year, The National played three dates in Dublin which marked them out from the pack. A slow-burning legion of fans culminated in those three nights to produce a palpable feeling of a band on the cusp of greatness. This week, they returned play another three nights. If the band were hoping to repeat last years’s tremendous success they would have to pull something special out of themselves.

Friends and acquaintances raved about those shows last year. Some were fans, some had never heard the band before the gig. They were zealously converted. I’d heard about Matt Berninger, the singer who was an unsure frontman and his crowdsurfing at the last series of gigs that was so out of character for his usually reticent self. I heard how their musicianship was second to none. Last night, The second night of The National’s three at the Olympia Theatre this week, I went along to see what the fuss was about.

The truth is I’m none the wiser about The National after last night’s performance. The gig was hampered by poor sound (I was not alone in thinking this – uber-fan Ian agrees) – it was like listening to a band play behind a sheet of glass. The drumming was extremely low in the mix, the guitars never rumbled around the room, the brass was a pleasant addition on a standout like ‘Fake Empire’ but was largely lost in the mix. Berninger’s vocals are slightly mumbled at the best of times but his voice only barely carried from the stage to the middle of the room.

Pockets of singalongs from fans could be heard (prompting Berninger to tell the crowd “You’re louder than last night!”) but the gig never seemed to take off despite the best effort of a minority. Parts of the set were clear highlights like ‘Squalor Victoria’, ‘Start a War’, ‘Secret Meeting’ and ‘Mr. November’ showcasing how a band with such understated live presence can at times, lift the roof off. In other parts, it felt like the band had a reserve they chose never to use. I was left frustrated. Maybe it was an off night, maybe The National couldn’t convert me zealously, maybe I just didn’t get the appeal? One things for sure, I neither hated them or loved them and ultimately, to be caught in the middle was the most disappointing thing.

The National: MySpace | Official

  • Nay

    Ah that’s such a shame, I havent been able to make the gigs this year but felt okay about it because they were fabulous at Ambo/Olympia in November.

    Yeh, tis pure shame they didn’t getcha. So no camping in the front row for Oxegen then?

  • Ivor

    Spot on Niall. They seemed very out of sorts on Wednesday night, very poor show..

    I’ve seen ’em a few times before and they’ve been amazing almost every time – particularly last year at the Olympia and the amazing Whelan’s show a few years back.

  • I saw them last November in the Olympia and again last night (15 May). November’s gig was excellent with the band and the audience in great form, but last night was just a little flatter. The band are still great players, and they throw out some great songs, but the difference to me was a lack of that spark that made the November gig so good. They seemed to be going through the motions a bit, to be honest. Touring Europe a second time with the same album that you’ve been touring almost constantly for over a year probably doesn’t help; they looked like they needed something new to jolt them into life. Oh, and the brass section really needs to go – it adds nothing except on ‘Fake Empire’.

  • Touring Europe a second time with the same album that you’ve been touring almost constantly for over a year probably doesn’t help;

    Same as Battles on Friday night 🙂

  • Refreshing to read this Niall. Like you, I’ve always been boggled as to what this band’s appeal is, especially to Irish audiences who adore them. Their lyrics completely alienate me, sort of maudlin stories of navel gazing, drunk, failed american men and their melodies bar one or two fine songs, are ordinary and downbeat. Still, in spite of all that, its a shame the shows did not come together for the paying fans who like the band.

  • I think you’ve been kind. This has to be the worst gig I’ve been to in years. Cannot remember hearing such a bad sound mix – I had to leave early once I’d decided I wasn’t going to waste time as well as money. Best (Elbow) and worst gigs within the space of a month … at least it keeps us on our toes.

  • Tim

    Definitely agree about the sound for The National- thought it was all over the place and made for a disappointing evening.

    Have to agree with you on Battles as well- same material and I think even the same set list as they had in Tripod last year. Still a great gig though even if they were going through the motions for a few of them at the beginning.

  • Ciarán

    Such a pity you all weren’t at the gig on the Thursday (which, incidentally, was the first one announced – the others were added later). It was absolutely incredible, the sound was crystal clear and crisp. The atmosphere was second to none, best gig I’ve been to this year.