"The English are waiting and I don't know what to do." Sings Matt Berninger of The National at Koko last night. This line seemed all too true for the charismatic lead singer who looked visibly stunned and overwhelmed at the rapturous applause that greeted him and his band. While cracking open a bottle of champagne he admitted, "this is the first time we have played to this many people who have just come to see us." I too was quite surprised at the frenzied response to every song and the general hysteria that resided in the hall that night. And it was well deserved.
Opening with the glorious Secret Meeting and just about playing every song they know, as well as a few new ones, this soon evolved into a truly stunning and memorable gig. It's such a treat these days to see a front man with a personality, who is genuinely reacting to the passion and emotion of the songs - rather than assuming an act. On songs such as Daughters Of The Soho Riots, Berninger whispers into the mic as if he was holding his lover, his hands gently yet firmly clasping the neck whilst he pours his heart out as if they were the only two in the room. In between verses and songs he would pace around nervously, biting his nails like a troubled man waiting outside his lovers door, rehearsing the devastating words he is about to utter. After screeching the repeated mantra 'My mind's not right' on Abel, Beringer looked genuinely shaken at the power of his own voice.
As is often the case at great gigs, the crowd is treated to revamped and reworked versions of familiar favourites. The achingly beautiful Wasp Nest smouldered like the cigarette permanently burning between Berninger's clasped fingers, then gradually rose to a mighty crescendo that morphed into the awesome Murder Me Rachel. The highlight of the set, and the moment that brought this gig into four-star territory, was the mighty Mr November. If much of the night saw Berringer straining to keep his emotions under wraps, this was the point where he lost the fight. Clearly feeding off the crowds unified and deafening chant of "I'm the new blue blood, I'm the great white hope," the front man gave it all he had, screaming over and over "I wont fuck us over, I'm Mr. November." Fantastic. And all this while being flanked by two twin hobbits from Lost's Driveshaft.
Click here for more pictures, and here for a review of November 2005's gig at ULU.