The National – Boxer live in Brussels – Album Review by Killian Laher
Two strange concepts clash head on here. First: the ‘live’ album, or rather, a recording of a band live in concert. As a rule, live albums don’t quite recapture the magic of attending a concert (with a few notable exceptions). What you generally end up with is a slightly muddier-sounding version of the recorded material. Second: the idea of replaying an album in full, replicating the exact track listing. As a live experience it is a curious one, where you know exactly which song follows each song. Nor do many albums finish with a climactic closer, worthy of ending a concert.
The National marked ten years after Boxer was released with a live run through the album in Brussels last November. Boxer was the album which, along with the endorsement of Barack Obama, launched the band into the big leagues. So the concert opens with its biggest song, Fake Empire, which is usually a highpoint in a live setting. It seems a little early here to be inducing euphoria. Musically, this song, like the others here, is played faultlessly.
Mistaken for Strangers doesn’t feature in their setlists so much these days, and here it’s easy to see why as the live version possesses little of the snarl and fire of the original recording. From here the band tackles the rest of the material with authority, the band given plenty of opportunity to show their ability. The Dessners play some mean guitar licks on Brainy, Slow Show and in particular a rousing Squalor Victoria, where the strings of the album version are replaced by searing guitars and some old school Matt Berninger screaming in the outtro.
Quieter material fares just as well, with Green Gloves, Start a War and Racing Like A Pro coming across as melodic and with real emotional heft. Indeed, Ada invokes some of the grandeur of The Cure in their doomier moments. The one thing lacking is the element of… surprise.
Therein lies the problem with an album like this. It definitely merits a few listens, but is no substitute for the original album, and ultimately you wonder what’s the point. However, the fine musicianship on show here means fans of the National will find plenty to enjoy.
Track List –
1. Fake Empire
2. Mistaken for Strangers
4. Squalor Victoria
5. Green Gloves
6. Slow Show
7. Apartment Story
8. Start a War
9. Guest Room
10. Racing Like A Pro