The National @ O2 Academy, Glasgow – 24th August 2011

I’ve been a fan of The National for a few good years. Alligator was the first album I owned, however I was introduced to them courtesy of ‘About Today’ being included on a magazine cover disc long before that. I loved the understated emotion which crept up on you, and then boils over. The dark melancholy of the lyrics, and most of all Matt’s deep baritone vocal.

First time I saw them was in Glasgow’s famous King Tut’s during their Alligator tour. I’ve been lucky to have seen them  few times since including Festivals and in support slots. Tonight however it was lovely to see them in a Headlining slot once again.

Tonight’s show was announced a good few months after their show in Edinburgh Corn Exchange had sold out. That show was last night, and even with that tonight the venue seemed packed. I know tickets were available on the door today, however inside it felt like the Academy was near capacity. At 9:15 The National came onstage and immediately waltzed into ‘Start A War’ from previous album, Boxer.

The sound was exemplary, the balance of the guitars against the drums, and the deep vocal range was spot on. Earlier I had been worried as I’ve had issue with a handful of shows in this venue and during support Wye Oak, the bass tones were just buzzing and jarring throughout the room. Thankfully this proved to be simply a symptom which affected Wye Oak.

In truth I’m finding it hard to put tonight’s show in to words, which admittedly isn’t a great situation to be in when writing for a review website!! The show worked on an emotional level which has to be felt; not read about. The National’s songs, their playing – magnificent drum patterns that weave around sparse guitar work and gentle piano – and Matt’s vocal – haunting without trying –  and the crowd’s own vocal accompaniment added up to a show which left goosebumps at times, and the very next displayed so much pent-up anger of feeling it simply allowed itself to go wherever it wanted to.

During one of the many conversations with the crowd, we were told that this was their last show in Europe and they would be going away for a while. Sad as this is, it is clear that the band then put their all into making this a great going away party. Songs which stood out for me include ‘Ada’, ‘Lit Up’, ‘Terrible Love’, ‘Anyone’s Ghost’, and ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’.

However special mention has to be made of three songs in particular. Firstly, ‘Fake Empire’ once again showed that boring 4/4 drum patterns is rarely in The National’s repertoire.  After a slow burn beginning the drums really kick in, and the guitars turn up a notch and suddenly the whole of Glasgow’s Academy is being carried away in a crescendo so powerful it takes a good few minutes before we are placed back down gently and the words “Goodnight! Thank you” are uttered. A fantastic finish to the main set, very much leaving the crowd baying for more.

On their return we were treated to 5 songs, however two of those encores are the others which I wish to write about. First up, and after a few calls for it by the crowd during the main set we were given a frankly stunning rendition of the beautiful “About Today” (the song which I first heard on a magazine cover CD). It was during the 4 minutes of this performance where any witness would have their faith in the power of song and live performance steadfastly restored. Without question.

Tonight’s show was ended in a beautiful and special way. When it felt obvious to all that the setlist was over, and as the band were making to part company from their faithful they suddenly picked up acoustic guitars and walked to the front of the stage. Stepping down onto risers between crowd barrier and stage, and without amplification we were asked to sing along to a stripped down and intimate rendition of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”. It was a beautiful moment as the power of a live band was stripped away and the fragility of the song was laid bare for all. The crowd was respectfully quiet throughout, clearly caught in the grasp of moment, and listening to the quite acoustic guitars, minimal brass accompaniment. Those who knew the words sung along perfectly (no drunken Glasgow crowd shout along here!), those who didn’t know the words stood and watched in awe. A memorable farewell from a band who seem to have finally been given the recognition and adoration they so richly deserve.

The National Setlist O2 Academy Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland 2011

Gareth Fraser

Editor-in-Chief and Owner of Musicscramble. Obsessed with music from a young age, over 1000 gigs under his belt, a serious record collecting habit, a love of concert photography and alphabetising his CD collection.

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