Sunday, 11 July 2010

The National - London Camden Roundhouse - Saturday 10th July 2010

The iTunes festival is something of a mixed blessing to music in the UK. On the one hand it provides free gigs to go to (if you're lucky enough to win tickets, or have them offered to you on It also does a great job of promoting bands that have yet to fully penetrate the mainstream music consciousness of the country. On the other hand however it is exclusively based in London, somewhat lending credence to the idea that UK bands have to be in London to get any attention. Furthermore the fact that tickets can be won through competition does lead to the potential of gigs being filled with people who are just pleased to have won tickets to a gig and may not really care who they're going to see.

This isn't a review of the concept of the iTunes festival however. It's a review of one band that it is fantastic to see being given the recognition of being on the lineup. Brooklyn's The National were of little concern to anyone other than the indie/art rock underground before new album 'High Violet' was catapulted to 3rd place in the US Top 200 and 5th in the UK Top 100. The success was overdue and came as a result of the slow-burning weaving of predecessors 'Alligator' and 'Boxer' into the ears of music lovers worldwide. Whilst those two albums were excellent there is no doubting that 'High Violet' trumps them both, being both a masterpiece of atmosphere and of dextrous songwriting. It's also a rather addictive record; having had it just over a week it has yet to leave my stereo. Indeed the new album has provided pretty much the first listen I've had to the band for over a year but that's the beauty of many of their songs. They are so fresh that even if you don't hear them for years they come pouring back into your consciousness as soon as they grace your ears again.

Before The National take to the stage however there is support from indie folk collective Stornoway. Their songs are pleasant listening but perhaps a little repetitive on first listening. Very much a pop band disguising their capacity for writing pure tunes with folk instrumentation, they seem to please much of the crowd gathered inside the Roundhouse early enough to see them, getting a few to dance to their cheerful ditties. Entertaining but only a warm-up for the main act. The National are preceded by an extremely informative (sarcasm alert) iTunes presentation presenting the audience with footage of many of the acts to have played the festival back in 2008 or 2009. What exactly we have done to deserve having footage of Mika and The Saturdays is unclear. This brief pain is soon forgotten when The National stride onstage however. Augmented into an 8 piece lineup for live shows the band kick off with the fine double header of "Start A War" and "Mistaken For Strangers". It certainly takes the band less time to warm up than it does the crowd. The intensity is notched up by the time the first big crowd reaction comes along, for recent single "Bloodbuzz Ohio". Frontman Matt Berninger spits out the words in his distinctive baritone whilst Bryce Dessner switches effortlessly between guitar, bass and piano. As the show wears on more and more of the crowd become aware that they're witnessing something very special, even those who clearly know very little or none at all of The National's material. Soon Berninger decides that the stage isn't quite big enough for him and so he proceeds to wander through the crowd (dilligent cameraman doing very well to follow him all the way). By the time the band emerge again after a brief break for the encore they've performed pretty much perfect renditions of many of their finest songs. They are the sort of band that it really takes seeing in the flesh to fully appreciate. Songs like "Runaway" and closer "Terrible Love" come to life even more thrillingly on stage than on record. Berninger fails to resist the temptation to wander through the crowd a second time during "Mr. November" and the crowd themselves fail to resist The National's near perfection. An truly incredible band.

Stornoway - 6/10
The National - 10/10

The National setlist
Start A War
Mistaken For Strangers
Anyone's Ghost
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Afraid Of Everyone
Little Faith
Conversation 16
Apartment Story
Geese Of Beverley Road
Daughters Of The Soho Riots
Fake Empire
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
Mr. November
Terrible Love


  1. I have seen them four times and this was by far their best set yet. Nice write up.