The National at Olympia

Killian Laher writes.

Last night most of Dublin had Armageddon-syndrome, due to heavy snow. So, how to create a night from nothing? Go out and take advantage of the snow by scoring last minute tickets to The National. Opportunism at its finest.

Phosphorescent, an American ‘alt-country’ band for those of you who like labels, were the support band. What initially seemed like bog standard alt country was transformed into something else by some Radiohead-framed guitar noise-outs. Most enjoyable.

The National didn’t come on stage till 9.50pm to frantic applause, kicking off proceedings with Runaway, one of several ‘lump in the throat’ songs in their catalogue. The band’s performance was transcendent. The focal point was singer Matt Berninger, who has evolved from an almost apologetic, awkward performer into a charismatic bad man with a drink and a beard, like David Thewlis in Naked. So no more Mr Awkward, now Mr November. Slow Show provided another emotional highpoint towards the end of the song when Berninger delivered that line: “you know I dreamed about you, I’ve missed you for 29 years”. Later, the anthemic England was almost too much.

It wasn’t all muted, claustrophobic brooders, Berninger’s underused asset, his scream was unleashed at the end of Squalor Victoria. None of this would work without an extremely tight performance from the rest of the band, who powered through tracks like Lit Up evoking stalwarts like Joy Division and REM (when they were good).

Fake Empire has become a big song for them, but for me it was the least interesting part of the night, though it did get the clappers out in force. The encore lifted the night to unparalleled heights, as Matt Berninger roamed the crowd during Mr November and Terrible Love, before they finished with a disarming Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, where the band stood still and sang the song acapella without any amplification. What a finish to an exhilarating performance.

This is a band that actually mean something. Who are important. Down tools and follow them. As Friedrich Nietzche said “if you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes into you.” With The National as its soundtrack. Which is a good thing.

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