I love The National, I do. On Friday 2nd November, however, I heard them play live in Glasgow at the ABC and have to admit to being worried. Having heard a disastrous set played by the band at the Latitude festival this summer, when they arrived with no instruments and a bad mood, I was hoping Friday night would be a redeeming event.
I could blame my disappointment on the psychotic Glaswegian next to me who kept spilling his beer and attempting to snog his mate’s girlfriend or the couple in front who insisted on screaming a conversation at each other for the duration of the whole gig. But unfortunately the real cause of my uncertainty was The National’s front man, Matt Berninger. I couldn’t help thinking his voice, underplayed and lethargically seductive on the albums, feels a bit strained on stage. Competing with the great rhythmic build up of guitars, violin and percussion, I could hardly make him out and felt constantly nervous that his rasp would finally snap a vocal chord and disappear altogether. Nothing so dramatic would ever happen of course, at the end of a song he would bashfully wonder around the stage, pick up his pint and look a little overwhelmed at the crowd.
‘Fake Empire’, ‘Looking for Astronauts’, ‘Mr November’ were all fantastic with extended climactic assaults on the ear, overlaying a cacophony of drum thumping, feedback and violin screeching. Even here though I wasn’t totally convinced. The band, holding their guitars up against the amps and whacking the symbols, didn’t seem anywhere near as angry as the noise suggested, looking instead very sincere and just a little bit self conscious. It all sounded a bit like the acoustic attack unleashed by Wilco in the final, exhausting crescendo of their live set. Just a little more polite.
6th Nov 2007 - Tumblr3
Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk
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