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This article can be found in Issue 4 of Vhcle Magazine.
2010: The National
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It’s also clear that despite the fractious character studies they turn into music, the band are very comfortable with each other. They’ve been together for over a decade now, and there’s not a missed cue or false start throughout the set. It’s particularly impressive on “Fake Empire” as drums, guitar, and trumpet collide in a swirl of time signatures and syncopation, but no less well-rehearsed for simpler songs like “Secret Meeting” or “Conversation 16”.
Although the screaming of the first few albums has disappeared from more recent recordings (maybe because they no longer need to grab a truculent crowd’s attention) it’s still an integral and electric part of the live performance. “Abel”, “Mr. November” and “Available” all get the treatment, as does “Squalor Victoria”, which is transformed from a pretty-but-edgy little track into a chaotic assault, climaxing with its title being repeatedly yelled down the mic. It’s a complete and surprising departure from the studio version, and a very welcome one that shows definitively this isn’t just a band going through the motions.
With a show at the end of November in London, it’s no surprise when “Mr. November” and “England” (which Berninger cheekily introduces as ‘France’) both make appearances. But it’s the finale of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, played completely acoustically and off-mic with an awed audience singing along to every word that’s the real highlight (even if several of the audience seem to think it’s actually about geese).
It takes an unusual band to reduce the Brixton Academy to a hushed reverence, but The National do it with ease. They’re awkward, uneasy, and unpredictable – and on this sort of performance, completely unstoppable.
Jamie Dance Thunder (Yes, that's his real name.) An English Language graduate from Cardiff University, now studying for an MA in Investigative Journalism at City University, London. He hopes his interests of bad puns and current affairs will help him get a decent job on a newspaper, or failing that make him that guy at parties who makes terrible topical jokes and is the only one who laughs.
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Photo by Clara Tortato
Other articles by Jamie:
The National, London Brixton Academy,
November 30th, 2010 Vhcle Magazine Issue 4, Music

Matt Berninger of The National is, whatever he might claim in his between-song banter, an awkward man. As he mutters and murmurs his way through the set at London’s Brixton Academy he variously hits his hands against each other, his legs, and his chest, screams into the microphone, and gestures with hands on thighs to his drummer. At one point he crouches down and does a sideways roll. (Apparently it goes down a storm in Belgium.)
Throughout the show he seems to be teetering on the edge of a breakdown, letting himself stare over the edge before hauling himself back, only to fly into a confused rage that builds and builds before finally being unleashed in the thrilling squall of “Abel”.
If Berninger’s performance ratchets up the tension through the feeling that this might be the night he loses it, it’s more than matched by the men behind him as they tauntingly soundtrack his paranoia. From the opening “Runaway” with its ominous lines about being fed to the flood and swallowing the shine of the sun to the rolling drums and sparse piano of “Squalor Victoria” the music swirls around him, mocking his attempts to force it under his control.
But then ever since Alligator marked them out five years ago as something more than a morose guitar band with above-average lyrics, The National’s draw has been the tense sparring between singer and band. That album’s mix of mournful, faintly sinister warnings and full-throttle blasts was followed up by Boxer, in which the conflict became still more pronounced as Bryan Devendorf’s drumming buffeted the songs seemingly at will.
Onstage the backdrop flickers with images of the band, never stopping quite long enough for you to work out whether it’s a live feed or images from previous shows, while Berninger veers around the stage then returning to clutch the mic as if fighting to stay afloat in an ocean of noise.
There is, understandably, a focus on the most recent three albums, with several songs from this year’s High Violet making the set. The recorded versions are a slightly underwhelming listen, but live the songs sound tauter and more muscular, packing a much greater punch.
They’re helped by the inclusion of a two-piece brass section, which adds a forlorn, Last Post feel to the slow-burners like “Sorrow” that might otherwise fall a bit flat. Only two songs, the snarling “Available” and a lovely version of “Lucky You”, are included from the first two albums, as the far more accomplished recent work takes centre stage, but it never feels like The National are ashamed of their past.
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