The National – Donnybrook Stadium, Dublin, Fri 15th June – Live Review by Killian Laher
The genteel surroundings of Donnybrook was the setting for the National’s first visit to Ireland since their dates in Vicar Street last year. The band reached stadium level a couple of years ago and are now at the point where RTE newsreaders and Fianna Fáil TDs are attending their shows.
It allows them to pull in strong support acts. Lisa Hannigan was in fine voice for her set, alternating between stripped down material and a fuller sound. While concentrating mostly on material from her last album At Swim, she mixed the set up, joined intermittently by Saint Sister and the Crash Ensemble. This, along with her own band, gave her set an engaging dynamic where they seemed to grow in confidence as the set wore on.
John Grant is a frequent visitor to Ireland and got a great reception. Beginning seated at a keyboard, the crowd were carried along by his rich, booming voice. Playing songs from all his albums, older tracks like Marz and Sigourney Weaver were delivered faultlessly. He shifted up a gear with the dark electronica of Black Belt, which had many of his fans dancing along.
But it was the headliner most were here for. The National have tapped into something with their fans: just enough moodiness to give them an edge but largely steering clear of full on angst these days. With an audience who knew every word of every song, they stuck mainly to material from their last 3 albums. The sedate Nobody Else Will Be There gave way to a rousing The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness at the start of the gig and they could not fail from there. Singer Matt Berninger is the obvious focal point, but the Dessner and Devendorf brothers are fine musicians who didn’t put a foot wrong.
Afraid of Everyone and Bloodbuzz Ohio had the crowd dancing joyously, though large chunks of the set were given over to slower material like Walk It Back and a gorgeous I Need My Girl. Joined for several songs by Lisa Hannigan, they didn’t ignore older material, reaching back to Wasp Nest from 2004’s Cherry Tree. Conversation16 had all the crowd singing “I’m evil” repeatedly.
Slow Show has become something of a centrepiece for The National, with fans excitedly anticipating the piano-led coda. One of Berninger’s signature traits is the foray into the crowd, with Day I Die providing the opportunity for the first of these, allowing an overjoyed fan to sing a few lines. After a euphoric version of England and Fake Empire, they finished with About Today, featuring a stretched out coda, and an audience belting out lines like “how close am I to losing you “.
But it was not a night for poignancy. The encore featured a rocking Mr November and the longest mic lead I have ever seen as Berninger roamed the stadium singing Terrible Love, venturing into the stands and all over the place. The set concluded with an acoustic Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, the band leaving vocal duties to the audience.
To paraphrase the band and attempt to ‘explain everything to the geeks’, The National are a stadium band for a more thoughtful music fan left cold by the more clichéd mainstream acts. Nobody was disappointed.
Track List –
Nobody Else Will Be There
The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness
Don’t Swallow The Cap
Walk It Back
Afraid of Everyone
I Need My Girl
This is the Last Time
Born to Beg
Day I Die
Carin at the Liquor Store
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks