Sunday, 6 February 2011
801 THE NATIONAL, Phosphorescent, Bristol O2 Academy, Wednesday 24 November 2010
I booked this some time ago, as The National, increasingly becoming one of my favourite bands with their blend of atmospheric late night mood music, euphoric crashing crescendo alt rock and moody Americana, had produced another splendid CD this year in “High Violet”. Again very slow-burn and understated, it’s a real grower, but Rachel decided it didn’t grow on her enough, so passed her ticket onto Tim, who was keen to see the support.
Unfortunately, the journey down was a total nightmare; Rach got in late from work in Reading so Tim picked her up from the station, and we passed each other in the lobby on my way out! Hitting Bristol at 7.30, Tim and I waited in an interminable queue for the usual Trenchard Street car park, only to discover it was “one in, one out”, and, after a panicked drive up the hill, eventually parked over by @ Bristol, which turned out to be closer than we thought! However, this meant we got into the packed venue at 8.10, ten minutes after support Phosphorescent took the stage. A US alt-country lot (hence Tim’s enthusiasm for them, I guess!), they were okay background music, occasionally too trad Country hokum for my tastes, and I only really took note during their more discordant moments towards the end of their set.
We kept our good positions, stage right, as the floor got increasingly stuffed with both older muso types and indie girlies (a broad church, the National’s audience) and anticipation grew. The National took the stage at 9.15 against a violet backdrop, easing into their set with “Runaway” and “Anyone’s Ghost”, a slow, moody double from “High Violet”. An early “Mistaken For Strangers” then should have really ignited both the crowd and their performance, but somehow it didn’t…
The sound was perfect, a little too perfect perhaps, the band played their material reverently and understatedly, but somehow it all seemed to lack depth, an extra dimension of dynamism, particularly early doors. Having seen The National really soar “live”, and add that extra power and punch to their effortlessly cool yet deliciously sombre music, it seemed a little disappointing. Don’t get me wrong; they were still great, with the denouement to “Slow Show” affecting, and “Sorrow” hauntingly wallowing. I was just expecting more, and didn’t really get it until a brash, jagged “Abel”, which finally saw Matt Berenger howl with real venom.
“Play something depressing!” shouted a wag in the crowd (not me, for once!) as The National augmented their performance with some nervous between song banter, and Matt’s barrel rolls (!), before “Fake Empire” closed out the set. The subsequent encores, however, were magnificent and much more the ticket; “Mr November”, full-on, venomous and rocking; “Terrible Love”, surprisingly savage and punk rock, and the best number they played tonight; and a final, unplugged “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, brilliantly delivered with acoustic guitar and trumpet embellishment, and an all-inclusive mic-free singalong, to end an uneven but overall splendid performance on a high note.
Still increasingly one of my favourite bands, this was still a great gig, despite a slight disappointment that it didn’t really scale the heights of previous National gigs. They’re on their way up, and have the potential to be an REM for the new millennium. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, but whatever, I’ll still be watching closely!