by / December 7th, 2010 /

The National – Olympia Theatre, Dublin

The National have been opening this tour with ‘Runaway’, a gentle yet flavourful start to the set. It isn’t a stand out track. It’s almost a lullaby. But like the band’s career, it’s considered, almost tactical; slow-burning and powerful. Promoting Alligator five years ago, the band played across town in Whelan’s. These five Ohio boys aren’t exactly slight but it wasn’t just their physicality that was too big for the stage. Then, and now, The National’s music centred around two massive forces: the fraught, tight and textured drumming of Bryan Devondorf and the baritone-sung anxieties of Matt Berninger – both equally epic. Back then, Alligator just about charted in one country (the UK at 165) – nowhere else. Two albums later High Violet has charted in sixteen countries, the Top Five in 10 of those, affording the band a touring horn section and an impressive visual backdrop at The Olympia tonight. Everything about them is bigger: the stage setting, the remarkable similes but most of all their poise.

Lyrically, The National’s music is bowed around paranoid and neurotic notions but their delivery and performance is nothing short of steadfast assurance. When still, Berninger anchors the band centre-stage. He is balanced either side by the Dessner twins, Bryce and Aaron, with complimenting jagged and humming guitars while Devondorf’s brother Scott strengthens the rhythm section with percussive bass lines.

‘Anyone’s Ghost’ builds brooding introspection while ‘Slow Show’ lures out gang-singing with “I want to hurry home to you…” However it is the piano-led ‘Squalor Victorious’ that cements the participation of the band and audience. Berninger, who initiates a clap-along, seems genuinely anxious. Fist biting, head slapping, shouting off mic into the ether – the man looks unhinged and the crowd love every bit of it, enticing more with screams of alliance as Berninger’s passionate performance channels elemental feelings shared by many.

‘Afraid of Everyone’ is a stunning paranoid celebration. Over arresting, taut guitar lines and palpitating rhythms, Matt bellows “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out” with strain and effort, as if exhausted by his own suspiciousness. He goes on to single out a group of girls sitting in the bar who may have the right idea.

When hundreds of people are singing “I still own money, to the money, to the money I owe” it’s hard not to reflect. Heralded by a distinct rolling drums ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ is an affecting song, doomed impressionist lyrics paint the story of real life woes packaged in an infectious almost cheery melody.

Blue lighting, lamenting horns and chiming guitars set the tone for ‘Conversation 16’, emotive and slightly apprehensive; a sentiment reflected with compelling image projections and carried through ‘Green Gloves’ and the stunning ‘England’, a memorable highlight culminating in a rousing descant. ‘All The Wine’, ‘Mr. November’, ‘Lit up’ and in particular ‘Abel’ are electrifying anthems, allowing Berninger to walk across the audience and descend into spiraling raucousness that he and his band incited. The crowd are fervent to say the least; The National have earned their fanatical reverence.

High Violet is a great album but not the best from The National. Some of their usual virulent intensity was slightly diluted, giving it broader appeal – a really smart move. You see now The National are the kind of band thousands of people want to see. They are the kind of band thousands of people should see. Their live show is a tremendous spectacle of raw sentiment and exposed emotions. Image-rich poetry played out over dark, gothic Americana. A potent concoction.

Photo from Last.FM

Video from belldavidalan

  • Louise

    I heard rumours that The National were joined onstage by some members of Arcade Fire. Was that a wee white lie?

  • Michelle Bond Dolan

    They were joined by Richard Reed Parry on Saturday night alright – but just him and no-one else from Arcade Fire

  • Puck

    Went on the Thursday night and it was, without exaggerating, the best gig I’ve ever been at. Just an amazing show… I am however sickened that we didn’t get All The Wine, Lucky You and About Today like the Friday night. Pretty much my three favourite songs but really I can’t complain, it was amazing all the same. Really hope they come back sooner rather than later…

  • technogoblin

    Saw them on Friday night, which it seems this review turns on, and it really was spectacular. The old mixed with the new seamlessly, the new songs soaring, especially Conversation 16 and England. Every time I see them it’s a better show than before. Found the support pretty samey for their genre, hints of something special but it never lasts long enough. Sick I missed Richard Reed Parry on stage with them on Saturday night, but Sunday and Monday made up for it. You know it’s a good week when the lesser of four gigs you attended was Interpol.

  • Hil

    I went saturday and couldn’t get over how loud the crowd were – it was like a football match! Their Olympia show a few years ago was more subdued, probably because the men themselves were an unknown quantity for many.

    This was a magic show. He is a fascinating frontman – twitchy, awkward, intense and then suddenly unhinged and wild.

  • Conor McCaffrey

    Hit the nail on the head Alan, got a last minute ticket after giving up hope and saw a performance I’ll be talking about for years to come. Ran out of hyperbole at this stage, they were just stunning