I wake today with a fuzzy and slightly troubled mind as to whether last night’s gig was actually amazing or just mediocre. After a year of what can only be described as relentless global touring, “The National” made a full circle and returned to Australia to confirm the power and strength of their latest acclaimed album, Trouble Will Find Me. Following on from a career defiant gig on the Forecourt of the Sydney Opera House, The National worked through a virtually identical set list at the Sidney Music Bowl. I can’t help question whether all this recognition and ruthless touring is actually taking toll on the band.
By no stretch of the imagination have I lost my devotion as a committed“National” fan and to be truthful, I would go so far to confess that a day wouldn’t seem right without Matt Berninger singing through my headphone. I first discovered these Brooklyn men in 2008 after the release of “Alligator” and then the brilliantly acclaimed “Boxer”. Speaking for many National fans, I knew that I had discovered something very special, some sort of best kept secret.
I was very fortunate to have seen the band play at “almost” sell-out show at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire in 2009, then saw them command the stage at a Hyde Park musical festival. It was however in May 2010 on a crispy London evening at the magnificent Royal Albert Hall that I witnessed a band that was ready to make their musical mark.
So………here we all stood at the impressive Sidney Music Bowl on a perfectly weathered night in Melbourne. I was not alone in feeling a sense of excitement; there was obvious energy and anticipation in the air as I am sure for many this would be the first time they saw their beloved gents on stage. Having just released one of their best and most commercially embracing albums “Trouble Will Find Me” the crowd were a mix of new and old fans but respectful nevertheless. Taking a moment to gaze around the sheer numbers of such a diverse crowd, tonight confirmed that The National had finally “made it”. Good for them too.
Anyhow, it would seem only right to review this gig with such excitement and biased intention. I have however surprised myself in saying that tonight’s gig was far from anything ground breaking.
It was a predictable set with the now obvious trademarks of a “National” Gig. Matt walks into the audience during Mr November – CHECK, Matt throws down his Microphone endlessly – CHECK, The trumpets muddle through random songs to give them more body – CHECK…I wont go on…it sounds a little bitter, but compared to seeing Arcade Fire at the BDO, I felt slightly jooped.
I pondered through the Botanical Gardens on my walk home; I thought things through a little. If I were to take away the fact that I knew every single lyric to every song and the fact that the band could burp into the microphone and I would still applaud, tonight’s gig offered nothing exciting or remotely refreshing. I can honestly say that the gig just felt lack-luster, self-indulgent, predictable and tired.
Every song sounded pretty good, but that is all that can be said. Actually some songs fell flat in the middle and lost their drive (Demons, Conversation 16, Graceless) it was clear to me that The National rely on production values of their latest album to get the “full” sound. There were no highlights for me tonight and no memorable moments to write about.
What was impressive however was the ambience and the wonderful visuals that flickered perfectly as the band worked through there set list. The opening live footage following the band from back stage to the stage really helped build the excitement.
As for a live gig review, well it is probably best that you read one from the Sydney Opera House as this is where you will read about a brilliant band giving it their all.
As a National fan I absolutely enjoyed the gig tonight but if I were to be a by-stander who wanted a way in, it just didn’t cut it. If the National want their part in musical history (and it seems they do) I think it’s time they let go of such complacency and lift their game and give something more than what they did tonight.
Artist – The National
Venue – Sidney Music Bowl