US - New York - Full Moon 140 - 02/21/08
The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA, 19.1.08
The rich, shadowy elegance of Boxer lured me to the second of two sold-out shows at the Corner Hotel to witness The National hone their craft for the first time on Australian shores. However, I wasn't expecting a tumultuous and moving 90-minute set.
The National are a band. You know the kind - you want to devote yourself to them like you're a teenager. You pore over the lyrics, feel the emotional weight of the songs like they're your own lived experiences. You buy the albums and appreciate them as albums, on CD or vinyl. Downloading them would feel like letting
down your dad.
Following a solid set from local band Gaslight Radio, The National took to the stage nervously, but soon settled in after a rousing "Start A War", bouyed by the keening violin tones of string arranger and touring band member Padma Newsome. The cracking single "Mistaken For Strangers" followed, but was let down by less than punchy drum and guitar sounds, which make the recorded version so brilliantly insistent.
The hobbit-like Dessner twins flanked the stage, weaving together their lovely fingerpicked guitar lines. The Devendorf brothers made a solid but subtle rhythm section up the back. But it was Matt Berninger centre stage, hanging onto the mic stand for dear life, who held the crowd's attention, alternating between
a buttery croon and rasping roar, intoning his sad, sad poetry.
The band masterfully made their way through the whole of Boxer - with "Squalor Victoria", "Slow Show" and "Brainy" my clear favourites - and some of the best tunes on Alligator, including a monumental "Mr November". While the live versions of the songs missed some of the gorgeous details that
make the albums such a rich listening experience, they more than made up for with dynamism and grit.
At the end of the night the band left the crowd open-mouthed and warm-hearted. All hail The National.
Copyright © 2008 Tim Clarke