Saturday 16 December 2017

Brooklyn's finest leave us astounded


Matt Berninger is scowling at the sky. It's awful cloudy up there. And it would have to start raining just as he and his mates make their entrance. Speaking of which, might I suggest every band adopt The National's clever manoeuvre of having their pre-gig hustle in the backstage area broadcast to the good people out front?

Yep, we get to see Matt, Aaron, Bryce, Bryan and Scott huddle around a stairway, drinks in hands, smiles on faces, as they prepare for one last show in Ireland. It's pretty cool. Been here all week, so they have. Galway and Cork were treated first. Now, it's our turn, and the National boys are keen to go out with a bang.

The biggest, most successful cult band in the world (yes, there are still plenty of folks who have never heard of this arena-filling outfit from Brooklyn), The National present a master class in broody, depressive elder-brother rock. The kind that's okay to listen to even after you've left college. It's dark, melancholic and terribly pessimistic. It's also kinda magical.

Tonight, the lads will tear it up and throw some shapes. The Dessner brothers (accomplished guitarists, both Aaron and Bryce), in particular, are only too happy to show off. On Sea of Love and Mr. November, lead singer Matt (43) casts aside his stage fright and performs like a man possessed. Or maybe it's the nerves fuelling the energy.

Here we have a bloke who could stand still for two hours and keep us locked in with that sullen, cracked baritone of his. But he doesn't. Because Matt's got the whole screaming, troubled, beer-tossing band leader bit down, too. He probably overdoes it, but to hell with it. The guy still looks like a university professor, however, with his slicked-back locks, dark blazer and oversized glasses.


Meanwhile, the Devendorf brothers (it's a family affair, this band) form a tight rhythm section. Bryan (the head off John Lennon) is easily the finest indie rock drummer in the world; a sharp and extraordinary skilful percussionist, and the beating heart of this wondrous unit.

And that's what The National is - a marvellous band of musical nerds whose slow-burning success (remember, it was three albums and eight years before everyone started listening) is richly deserved. They're also the unlikeliest group of rock stars you've ever laid eyes upon.

Mournful break-up tune About Today (with strings courtesy of support act Owen Pallet) is a kick in the gut. Fake Empire piles on the brass. It's a raucous, near-magnetic performance, and the National manage to pull off the tricky feat of satisfying both hipster beard-scratchers and lager-swilling festival fans.

Heck, they practically join hands for set closer Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (the tune is better than the name), during which Matt hands over all vocal duties to the audience. Perfect band, perfect venue. Perfect gig, too.

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