It’s one of the most bearded nights Manchester has seen in a while. The five-piece who originally formed in Cincinnati, Ohio are playing the first of two nights at Manchester’s Apollo. Whilst the cliental might be more mature than the folks who will check out Jake Bugg after their two-day residency, the enthusiasm and adoration felt towards the band has stayed with them since their 1999 formation. Their last LP, ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ cemented them as one of the most enduring guitar bands on the planet and this sold out show was the palpable proof of that unwavering status.
Opening with ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’, the band played over 20 songs and performed for a solid two hours without losing the attention of the crowd for a second. Tracks from the ‘Trouble...’ like ‘Demons’ and ‘Sea of Love’ are upheld by hair-raising melodies but the instrumentation and musicianship that is brought to them on the live stage show why The National are such a bloody good band. Older offerings like ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and ‘Apartment Story’ showcase a back catalogue worth shouting about and are performed with a sense of vigor and undying dynamism. It’s this sheer spirit that frontman Matt Berninger and the band bring to the live stage that prove that The National are a band refusing to sit still. On ‘Fake Empire’ they revel in their crescendos and strike up an unmissable fever in the crowd. The audience went from jumper donning oversized smartphone users to part of a full on collective experience where the stirring songwriting became the catalyst for a truly absorbing event.
After Berninger fully immersed himself and struggled through the crowd holding on to his microphone like his life depended on it, we are treated to a sombre acoustic rendition of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ from ‘High Violet’ to close. The lyric “All the very best of us string ourselves up for love” is caught by a shared microphone but overshadowed by some 3,000 fans singing along to every last word. Even after 15 years of being The National, the band still pack that punch of vitality, potency and relevance. 2013 will be heralded as a year for the records we needed and the statements we longed for but perhaps the biggest victory of all comes in the form of ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ and the place it has left this band in. 5 musicians who, after 6 LPs and a lifetime of gigging, still play till they have nothing left. A sentiment that never really ages.
Words: Duncan Harrison