The National at The O2 Arena, London, November 26, 2014 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The National

The National at The O2 Arena, London, November 26, 2014,

Dec 01, 2014 The National
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Sat hidden away behind a discoloured wooden door and at the bottom of a steep, narrow staircase next to London’s Embankment underground station is Gordon’s, the city’s oldest wine bar. Established in 1890 and situated below the former home of Samuel Pepys, the place oozes character from every nook and cranny. It is my favorite bar in the country, a regular haunt and, with all the wine being all for me and a colleague, it is the ideal preamble to seeing The National’s final show of the Trouble Will Find Me tour.

This is the fourth time I’ve seen the Brooklyn band, all of them on this tour, and being familiar with the quality of both their live sets and their back-catalogue, the excitement builds with every sip of Riesling. Our anticipation is such that any third-party observer would be well within their rights to assume we can only be disappointed.

This is, of course, ridiculous. Seeing the cavernous O2 Arena packed to the rafters, with every seat sold out, feels like affirmation for those of us derided as deliberately contrarian hipsters when we evangelised Alligator and Boxer as two contemporary greats. The National could have been so much less: it would take a lifetime to count the number of indie bands, with a plethora of wonderful songs and albums, who never made it as big as we critics believed they deserved to. Here we are though, at the country’s biggest arena, packed full of fervent fans. Even before the show starts, it’s clear that this is a big moment for the band: congratulations guys, you’ve made it.

The fear, I guess, is that such a venue would prove overwhelming to a band whose appeal has always been their gift for making a uniquely personal connection with the listener. The subtle shifts from the Devendorf rhythm section to the cute guitar licks from the Dessner brothers, via Matt Berninger’s wonderful turns of phrasewho the fuck knows what “I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away” really means, but god that’s an evocative lineThe National are a band who deal in intimate heartstring tugs. The biggest triumph of the night is perhaps that the personal touch is undiminished in a venue that seemed to rise out of the fog as you leave North Greenwich tube station, reminiscent of the extraterrestrial spacecraft from Alien.

The show is a triumphant one. Rather than getting lost in the venue, the band simply find they have more people to connect with. “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” perhaps their most popular song, finds an enormous backing vocal in the crowd. The setlist contains few surprises for those of us who have seen them on this tour before, but that doesn’t prevent the four-song run of “All the Wine,” “Abel,” “Slow Show,” and “Sorrow” from being devastating. Sufjan Stevens is on stage, providing additional keyboards, throughout and an outro of “Chicago” on “Ada” is a nice touch, ensuring that the indie favorite is acknowledged without ever encroaching on The National’s success.

They close with a run that we always expected, a breathless “Mr. November,” Berninger in the crowd for “Terrible Love” and a fully acoustic “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” but by that stage who cares if there have been few surprises in the set? On their first U.K. tour, my favorite contemporary band slept at a friend of mine’s house. Now they’re closing their biggest ever tour in the city where I live, with a show that’s tastefully spectacular, in front of several thousand emotional fans. This is a band that has touched me, personally, over the past few years. To see this success is heartwarming.


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