The National at The Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 20/9/17

Similarly to LCD Soundsystem who is also playing Scotland tonight, few bands have garnered the impeccable reputation that The National hold amongst die-hard fans and critics alike.

Their latest album Sleep Well Beast was release just prior to the UK tour and provides us with slightly rejigged direction that the band are taking.

 

More electronic and a little more ambient, this makes for an interesting vibe live.

Having seen the band previously in a much different setting, the atmosphere is striking.

Prior to the set a large projection teases the audience before a live stream of the backstage area takes over this gradually fills up with people and we see the band walk on stage.

The atmosphere is something else, the audience wait with bated breath for the band to emerge at this sold out show.

The band open with the sombre cut ‘Nobody Else Will Be There’ from the latest release. This track sets the tone for the rest of the set.

Percussive guitars gently fill the space as a haunting piano medley gradually joins. Frontman Matt Berninger’s beautiful baritone voice takes full advantage of the beautiful acoustics provided by this listed building.

The band occasionally break the quiet spell they’ve cast over the audience by blasting us with some slightly more up tempo cuts including ‘Turtleneck’, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and ‘Apartment Story’

Initially the set feels very new material focused, but taking stock of the show there are some certified classics interspersed throughout.

Including the tour debut of fan favourites ‘I Should Live In Salt’, from their previous effort Trouble Will Find Me, and ‘The Geese of Beverly Road’, taken from Alligator considered to be one of the bands strongest albums.

The last song before the encore is truly unexpected as the familiar piano motif starts and introduces us to ‘Fake Empire’ the opening track from critically acclaimed album Boxer.

This tracks allows the band to settle into a relaxed groove at first and giving a real chance to see the majesty of the outstanding yet humble brass section the band have assembled on stage.

With the track gradually building to a breath-taking climax featuring awed silence from the audience, which has been a constant theme through the set, there are very few sing-alongs at this performance instead replaced with quiet reverence.

The encore opens on an initially strange note with the band returning to pianos and performing ‘Born to Beg’ with help from tour openers Luluc on backing vocals.

A treat to be sure but again they seem to be leaning on newer material a lot.

The second half of the encore however remedies this by packing a few crowd favourites that the audience seem to have been longing for.

The band launch into a furious combo of ‘Mistaken for Strangers’, featuring clanging guitars and spitfire drums in all their glory, really giving you a chance to see the bands edgier side.

They follow this by upping the ante a notch with perhaps one of their greatest achievements ‘Mr November’, this is the track that seems to garner the biggest crowd reaction with Berninger’s guttural screams being met with rapturous cheers and applause from the baying audience.

The band close out the performance with ‘Terrible Love’, the opening cut from High Violet, the hall fills with warm, enveloping guitars as Berninger once again croons before launching into the uplifting chorus as the crowd sings along in unison.

The National are truly one of those bands that can inspire goose bumps when they perform live, while there may have been some odd choices with the setlist they can still be relied upon to provide a seismic live experience.

Words: Phil Allen

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