You don’t just become a fan of The National. You either find their music a little sleep-inducing and spurn it altogether or you fall completely in love. I fall firmly into the latter category.
Imagine my joy then when El Vy released Return to the Moon, a wonderfully chirpy track that is totally at odds with Matt Berninger’s previous output but as magnificent as anything that has gone before. At that point, seeing El Vy on their super limited UK dates became pretty much essential. The chance to see the whole album performed in full felt like a privilege before the level of performance that was delivered.
'Careless' opened the gig in a low key manner before 'It’s A Game' notches up the first really recognisable track. It’s a track that sounds more like The National than most of the material on show tonight and about as close as we come to hearing them, since the temptation to draw from that back catalogue is quite rightly ignored.
The first half of the set is great and only underwhelming in the context of what is to come later. It’s only when 'Return to the Moon' marks the mid-point of the night that this becomes the sort of gig you’re not going to forget in a hurry.
Berninger at this point begins to reprise his reputation as an entertaining nuisance of a frontman. He prowls the stage singing largely to himself and clambering over and under various instruments and obstacles that may get in the way of his path.
It’s a stage presence fans of The National will be familiar with but not one that you could ever tire of. If anything, the more energetic nature of this set lends itself better.
Microphone problems threaten to dampen the swaggering 'I’m The Man To Be' but the exasperated way the band get through the track makes it entertaining and heightens the special gig feel. Berninger slams the mic to the floor after the song and earns himself a wild cheer from the crowd.
They tease playing the track again but decide they need to be moving forward and not backwards. That’s an ideal time then to launch into a cover of 'She Drives Me Crazy' by Fine Young Cannibals that sees Matt using his best Mr November howl. It’s a moment of random unpredictability (if you didn’t check setlist.fm) that sums up the more fun side to this project perfectly.
Performances of 'No Time to Crank the Sun' and usual closer 'Need a Friend' appear to wrap things up nicely but they then follow through on their hint and give 'I’m the Man to Be' another airing. Unscheduled and breaking the curfew, the crowd bounces along gleefully. There’s even a crowdsurfer and a mini moshpit. Berninger climbs into the crowd and roams around as he has been known to do. He even pours beer into the crowd to the delight of those underneath the stream.
It’s one of the most fun shows you’re ever going to see and seeing the different side to Berninger shows a versatility that hasn’t always been on display. A special show for those lucky enough to attend. The National will be back in 2016 but you left this gig thinking there’s plenty of room for more from El Vy.