If you’ve been a long-term follower of this website you’ll know I’m more fond of THE NATIONAL than any other band on the planet, so it’s fair to say I was humbled when the band took up The Pop Cop’s cause back in May, a couple of weeks after High Violet was released to huge acclaim.
Their sell-out gig in Glasgow was kicked off by fellow Brooklyn-based act PHOSPHORESCENT, who make a promising first impression. It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama) is a positive statement of intent with its upbeat take on an alt-country sound that follows in the footsteps of Wilco and Grandaddy, especially with frontman Matthew Houck’s eyes hidden under a low-slung baseball cap.
The second half of their set is weighed down by some overindulgent guitar solos and rambling songs such as Wolves, which my gig buddy accurately compares to Band Of Horses played at half-speed, but there is certainly enough on show to merit a sift through their back catalogue.
Runaway is a surprising but brave opening song from The National, typical of their very deliberate, slow-burning genius. Immediately, you know you’re watching a band at ease with doing things at their own pace which perfectly sums up why their long wait for career recognition must feel even more gratifying.
Highlights are plentiful. You could pick out the unfailingly touching Slow Show or gloom-ballad masterpiece Sorrow, which singer Matt Berninger describes respectively as “perfect for weddings” and “this is our Kanye”.
Bloodbuzz Ohio is every bit as grand and beautiful as it is on record, with the blasts of trumpet giving it the aura of a royal marching anthem. It also allows the Dessner twins to take the limelight at the front of the stage, playing their guitars above their heads in unison.
Whenever I’m asked who The National sound like I always have difficulty finding obvious comparisons, but Afraid Of Everyone’s looped vocals and otherworldly harmonies of high-pitched wailing bear all the hallmarks of OK Computer. The song seems to bring out Berninger’s inner demons – as it reaches its conclusion he turns his back to the stage, beats his hands together and literally screams the lyrics “YELLOW VOICES SWALLOWING MY SOUL, SOUL, SOUL” before dropping the microphone to the floor.
Fifteen songs in and an already captivating gig suddenly takes on an incredible new dimension. When The National start playing Mr November, Berninger heads straight for the front barrier and leaps into the crowd before embarking on a Moses-esque journey which takes him almost as far as the bar at the main entrance before the end of the song forces him back to the stage, wild applause ringing in his ears.
The band waste no time in maintaining the euphoria, going straight into the classic piano refrain of Fake Empire. By the end of the song the crowd are so electrified there would probably have been a riot if The National hadn’t done an encore.
The four-song finale begins with their little-played “happy” song Wake Up Your Saints and offers the incongruous sight of Aaron Dessner doing finger snaps in time to the beat. Berninger returns to the crowd during Terrible Love for a hero’s welcome – this time he perilously balances his feet on the top of the front barrier and shimmies all the way from one side to the other.
About Today is a stunning comedown and appears to be the final act of an astounding live performance. But just when you think there are no more heights for The National to scale, all eight members discard their microphones for Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, with the audience deserving just as much credit for creating as memorable a spectacle as the Academy is ever likely to witness.
There was one last magical moment for the crowd – the sight of Glasgow enveloped in a beautiful blanket of fresh snow as they left the venue. You wouldn’t be surprised if The National had a hand in that too. It was that kind of night.
The National – Wake Up Your Saints
Phosphorescent – It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)