The National at Alexandra Palace
“Band learns how to have fun after 24 years,” The National’s guitarist jokes 40 minutes into the band’s two-and-a-half-hour set at Alexandra Palace in North London.
It is the first stop of two at the iconic venue for the self-professed “Sad Dads” of indie music. Performing to a sold-out audience of passionate fans, the American quintet and their backing band deliver a stellar selection of songs new, old, and very old. Celebrating 20 years together, the band are seasoned performers, playing up to the crowd and presenting an emotionally charged and intoxicating show. Their fanbase, spanning generations, lap it up.
Roaring into life as The National takes to the stage, the audience’s energy rarely falters throughout the 28-song setlist. An impressive lighting and video setup build the atmosphere, as a collection of squares illuminate the ceiling and stage alongside a video screen backdrop. The group may have chosen a smaller and more intimate venue for their London appearances than the rest of the tour, but the production remains fit for arenas.
Releasing two albums just this year, there is plenty to choose from as the evening showcases the band’s deeply adored discography. Some numbers evoke a stronger audience reaction than others, but all are delivered with the care of a fan favourite. Sombre track Once Upon a Poolside contrasts nicely with the mellow Don’t Swallow the Cap, while brass-heavy Cherry Tree highlights the band’s versatility. Jokes and musings from members fill in the gaps, including a birthday shout-out to one of their first UK fans and the reminiscing of a gig in East London two decades earlier that resulted in the band’s first record deal, and keep the energy light. After all, they’re having fun.
There is an intimacy to The National’s music that translates beautifully into a live setting. Frontman Matt Berninger takes several opportunities to get up close to his audience, whether singing directly to members of the front row from the stage, or physically climbing onto the barrier. “Tell me how to reach you,” the singer croons, hand stretched out to teary-eyed fans. It isn’t long before he’s running through the stunned crowd for Day I Die.
Mr November follows not long after as another joyous highlight of the night, ending with Berninger walking through the venue and out the exit. Yet, just as it seems the show is over, the Ohio natives launch into a thrilling finale of Space Invader followed by a feel-good singalong of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. The set closes with a stunning display of togetherness, as crowd vocals take centre stage with the band instead providing the backing track. It is a fitting finish for an evening of melancholic euphoria.
Photos: Virginie Viche
For further information and future events visit The National’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Space Invader here: