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There’s a certain almost unexplainable grandeur about The National. It feels inherent in everything they do – the quiver in Matt Berninger’s baritone, the forcefulness of Bryan Devendorf’s drumming – and this quality was none more evident than last night at the Royal Albert Hall in London. As the lights dimmed and the five nearly still silhouettes on stage broke the nervous, excited silence with the first chords of “Mistaken for Strangers”, lead singer Matt Berninger beckoned the seated crowd beyond the standing pit to their feet, engaging them like a group of friends. The energy seemed to rush forward with every knee buckled upright, back past where I stood in the huddled standing crowd and on to the stage where these Ohio-born musicians had only just begun to charm a crowd that had long since fallen in love with them. They already had us in the palms of their hands.

All photography by David Emery


The show continued with this same momentous energy, following with “Anyone’s Ghost”, before reaching one of the many highlights of the night, just 2 songs in, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. A staple in their live set since early 2009, it elevated the already terrific atmosphere into something close to life-affirming, the crowd moving and holding on to every word as Berninger collapsed into the exhausted “I’m on a bloodbuzz….God I am” chorus. Boxer favourite “Slow Show” was another highlight, coming in about half way through the initial set. Like much of their performance, the song felt distinctly invigorated. Though still as gorgeous and slow-burning as the studio version, to see Matt Berninger rocking cautiously over his microphone, in that deep, distinct tone, his colleagues silent and huddled over their instruments, and lines like “I leaned on the wall, the wall leaned away” humming in the air, they had the entire crowd lost in their romantic plight.

Crowd-pleaser “Fake Empire” ended the initial set on a high note, leaving us all breathless and stirring as the band made their way off stage, greeted by shouts for more. Their absence proved to be brief. Moments later they reappeared for an encore and what proved to be arguably the finest part of the night, with five songs lined up to close the show. They started with the emotional “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, followed into the more up-tempo “All the Wine”, before erupting with the enormous, sing-a-long “Mr. November”, which saw Berninger making his way all around the venue, front to back, as the crowd roared “I won’t fuck us over!”. The momentum-building “Terrible Love” was next, and though some have voiced complaints over its lo-fi studio version, the live rendition is as grandiose as any song they’ve written. It ended with “About Today”, one of their earliest live favourites (recorded on the Cherry Tree EP), and it took us out with a subdued crescendo.

"We're half awake in our fake empire"

As if I expected anything less, I left the venue amazed and in high spirits, surrounded by people chatting fervently- how the lights flashed in brilliant waves of red, orange, blue and green through each song, how the Dessner’s stood so nonchalantly at either side of Berninger, with the bearded Bryan Devendorf pounding away on a snare behind them, and his brother plucking his bass coolly in the background. Of course a couple wandered off to argue about less important matters, like the British elections in progress that night or something, but we left with nothing else on our minds. The sound still rung loudly in our ears as the Royal Albert Hall disappeared behind us, on our way to fall carelessly into drunken stupors as we talked and talked about every last detail and song. It was a spectacular performance; awesome, totally genius.






Kiran
05.07.10
set list:

mistaken for strangers
anyone's ghost
bloodbuzz ohio
secret meeting
baby we'll be fine
afraid of everyone
slow show
squalor victoria
little faith
conversation 16
apartment story
england
abel
sorrow
fake empire

encore:
vanderlyle crybaby geeks
all the wine
mr november
terrible love
about today


Athom
05.07.10
hell of a set

Ponton
05.07.10
oh yes

good work kiran

BigHans
05.07.10
Needs more Lit Up, Karen, and Start a War. Just kidding man, jealous, glad you got a chance to see them since you're getting screwed out of seeing the Hold Steady.

Kiran
05.07.10
hell of a show

seeing pavement on the 12th and titus andronicus on the 25th btw, so this is the first of three big, biiig shows for me this month

Inveigh
05.07.10
wow fucking great setlist. I would've liked to see the songs BigHans mentioned as well, but there's really no room to complain about that. I'm definitely jealous as hell.

Skimaskcheck
05.07.10
Sounds immense, and yeah, what a set!

SmurkinGherkin
05.07.10
ARRGHGHGh you managed to get tickets for this

they were too expensive for me D:

Skimaskcheck
05.07.10
how much were they?

Electric City
05.07.10
took my idea for when i see them at radio city

SmurkinGherkin
05.07.10
i cant remember exactly Skim but being a broke 16 year old it wouldn't take much to qualify as 'too expensive'

Electric City
05.07.10
and you bitch im seeing titus in july!

Skimaskcheck
05.07.10
haha, i understand! the trip to London alone would have emptied me

DrunkBishyBoshy
05.07.10
This was an amazing gig. One of the best I've ever been to, really nice write-up.

Kiran
05.07.10
hahaha, k adam ill leave the titus write up for you, i got exams im supposed to be preparing for anyway :s

Kiran
05.07.10
yeah bishyboshy, glad you enjoyed it as much as i did.

Parallels
05.07.10
oh jesus

plane
05.07.10
I got chills reading this Kiran. Great work, reminded me of my own experiences with the band, especially "Mr. November." One of the greatest musical moments in my short life thus far

Kiran
05.07.10
"One of the greatest musical moments in my short life thus far"

for sure. ive seen a lot of shows in the past year but i seriously struggle to think of any that were on the same level as this.

plane
05.07.10
The Tallest Man on Earth on pure stage presence, you must see him

Kiran
05.07.10
i caught half of his set a long time ago, when shallow graves first came out and i wasnt a huge fan yet. urgh. i need to see him now and give it the attention i am now aware he deserves.

Kiran
05.07.10
oh, and forgot to mention, the photos link to more photos if anyones interested. yay, right?

Klekticist
05.07.10
damn. i still havent seen them live...

AggravatedYeti
05.07.10
niiiiiice

VeryPleasantNeighbor
05.07.10
"awesome, totally genius"

nice.

Motiv3
05.07.10
im proud to say i was at that show, right at the top standing hahahaha. Was such an amazing show, better than Opeth's 20th anniversary show and thats saying something.

EVedder27
05.07.10
Sweet. Pretty awesome setlist too.

TheAppleseed
05.08.10
holy *%#ing christ, I wish I was there. reading this I can really imagine the spirit and feel of the concert. I can't wait to see them this summer, although it'll never compare to this set.

CelestialDust
05.08.10
'about today' is such an amazing song, that looks like a killer setlist

DaveyBoy
05.08.10
Great write-up Kiran. These guys are apparently coming down under in January 2011, so may check them out then.

klap
05.08.10
think i might see them in about 10 days

Kiran
05.08.10
davey and rudy you should both definitely see them. i agree, celestial, such a great, great song and a really good way to end the show too.

klap
05.08.10
is it weird to go to a concert alone? none of my friends know who the national are i don't know why i'm friends with them....this would be solved if ADAM THOMAS would go

Kiran
05.08.10
imagine it could get a little weird going alone :\

Brylawski
05.08.10
Just go by yourself and wear a ski mask

you will make new friends then

AggravatedYeti
05.08.10
what Brylawski said, but with no ski mask

don't wanna hide the goods rudy.

also going to a concert alone can be weird, just get wicked drunk.

Iai
05.08.10
Great work on the write-up.

Kiran
05.08.10
thanks iai

rudy, to be fair to adam, id be wary of spending a night with you in a dark room as well

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