PhosphorescentEdit this event
While many of 2010's big hitters didn't exactly set the world alight in terms of producing their strongest recorded works to date - Blonde Redhead, Deerhunter, Interpol and the Kings Of Leon we're looking at you - the steady ascendancy of The National has gathered momentum at its most frantic pace yet thanks in no small part to the widespread critical acclaim bestowed upon High Violet, their fifth and most recent long player. The fact it's actually taken The National so long to reach such fervent levels of approbation counteracts the industry's current policy of "one lucky golden strike or you're out" whereby bands no longer receive the time and nurturing required to develop. What's more, even after releasing three bonafide classics in Boxer, Alligator and the aforementioned High Violet, there's a strong feeling that The National's definitive record is yet to come, a surefire measure of the high standards in quality control employed by the band from the off, 2001's patchy self-titled debut being the exception.
For support act Phosphorescent, tonight represents one of the biggest shows in their history. Handpicked by The National rather than forcefed courtesy of a record label buy-on, their energetic slabs of psychedelic country are a soothing appetiser for tonight's main course. While most eyes are fixated on frontman Matt Houck - understandably in a way - we're more taken aback by the hyperactive performance of keyboard player Scott Stapleton, whose relentless enthusiasm perpetuates the mellower likes of 'Nothing Was Stolen' into boundless realms of preposterous fun. By the time 'A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise' rides impeccably into an epic freeform take on 'Wolves', it's clear to see Houck and co. have earned themselves a new legion of fans this evening.
So, onto The National - a band whose descriptors seem to be running out of superlatives to place at their feet. Not since REM managed a similar feat two decades ago has a band rose from the humble confines of an underground scene to the ensuing superstar status that awaits. Watching Matt Berninger awkwardly pace the stage before a note's been played, bottle of wine in hand, suggests none of this was planned. If anything, The National are probably more bewildered than any of the dwindling band of detractors that remain puzzled at their success.
Choosing a setlist that appeases fans both old and new proves an unenviable task, although the opening triplet of 'Start A War' and 'Mistaken For Strangers' with recent single 'Anyone's Ghost' sandwiched inbetween calms both onstage nerves and off stage restlessness in ten glorious minutes. That tonight's set is heavy with material from both Boxer and High Violet shows a band as much at ease with the hallowed remnants of its past as the more universally renowned contents of the present. 'Slow Show' and 'Squalor Victoria' are simply magnanimous in their execution, while even a rare outing for 'Available' off 2003's Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers demonstrates their ability to pen catchy tunes with insatiable hooklines almost from the outset.
Ever the showman, Berninger eventually gives in to the flood of requests being shouted from out front, altering the setlist at random to include an even rarer 'Green Gloves', despite several bemused looks from messrs Dessner and Devendorf x 2. At this point, it's worth mentioning the sizeable contribution played by the two sets of brothers in defining and enriching The National's sound, not least the tumultuous wall of noise that engulfs the venue as 'Abel' subsides and the more eloquent 'England' starts up. While the closing 'Fake Empire' prompts a mass singalong from at least half Warwick Arts Centre's capacity audience, The National are by no means finished yet as the dazzling four-song encore proves. We could talk for days about the gorgeous intones of 'Runaway' causing synchronised smiles from pillar to post, or the pulsating 'Mr November' and its resonant battle cry "I'm the new blood, I'm the great white hope!" filling the room with incessant glee. However, it would be churlish not to mention the epic finale of 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks', where Berninger joins the audience, all amplification is turned off and just a brass section remain. It feels like the last call of the bugle, yet in many ways heralds just the beginning for The National, as possibly Arcade Fire aside, there isn't a more exciting or engaging musical spectacle on the planet at this moment in time.
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