Monday 25 September 2017

rock

Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

the national

the o2, dublin

The National have made it to The O2 the time and tested old-fashioned way. The Brooklyn-based band may well be a platinum-selling arena-conquering entity, but it has been a very slow and steady process via the Cobblestone pub in Smithfield, Whelan's, the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork and the Olympia.

There was a sense that something special and potentially massive was brewing a few short years ago, when Michael Stipe from REM, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Helena Christensen were all spotted watching from the wings at Oxegen, even though at the time the band couldn't afford to hire a crew to load their gear on stage.

2013 has become a defining year for The National. Their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, further refined their brand of melancholic pop to forge yet another hit, even though the ubiquitous disco of Daft Punk kept them away from the top spot.

Can a band who have a proud history of playing very intimate shows successfully graduate to packing a knock-out punch in a packed arena? Thankfully, the answer on this occasion is a resounding yes.

A string quartet and a horn section add more backbone to the band's minimal sound and Matt Berninger's distinctive baritone. Opening with this year's single 'Don't Swallow The Cap', they immediately look and sound very much at home.

Old fans favourite 'Secret Meeting' and their signature song 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' sound assured and extremely confident, which is impressive considering that Berninger used to be renowned for his shyness and crippling stage fright.

Berninger has really grown into his role, stalking the stage like a man possessed and occasionally going on walkabout in the front rows. 'Squalor Victoria' has a newfound sense of noisy urgency, beautifully countered by the slow, swooning majesty of 'I Need My Girl'.

'Pink Rabbits' sounds like a 21st-century cousin of a half-forgotten Broadway romp. The main set concludes with 'Fake Empire', a song President Barack Obama made famous in his inaugural election campaign.

'Mr. November' and 'Terrible Love' see Berninger fully immerse himself in the crowd. It is a beautiful moment that briefly makes the cavernous O2 appear cosy.

The National's winning combination of determination, hard graft and good fortune has culminated in this landmark concert and a sold-out tour. They've already hinted that their next album will be a much rawer and possibly less commercial endeavour, but if they can maintain this breathtaking momentum, it is still bound to be a hit.

Irish Independent

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