The National – Bristol and Warwick

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Advanced warning of a looong post…


The Lad and I ventured into Bristol on one of the coldest nights so far this winter, lined up early’ish and got a good spot on the balcony overlooking the small stage at the Academy. A tad later @binmouth and fellow Bat Ieuan together with his partner, turned up but quickly weedled their way into the crowd in front of the stage.

Support band Phosphorescent were new to me, but their Americana/alt country sylee was pretty darned good. Matthew Houck fronting up with his understated vocal and twangy sound from his venerable guitar, Scott Stapleton making best possible use of his luxuriant locks, tossing them around like a thing possessed as he thumped away at the keys (of course I am hideous jealous that I can neither play the piano nor have the hairstyle to perform so exuberantly!) and Jesse Anderson Ainslie put out some very pleasing guitar licks even though the Lad was unimpressed with so many (albeit short) guitars solos – pah! youngsters these days!

Anyway despite the surfeit of beards and hair we really enjoyed their set, it would have been better still if I had known the material, but they obviously had enthusiastic fans in the crowd who whooped at all the right moments – good set, well played, great job chaps…

By the time Phosphorescent’s kit and amps had been removed the stage looked a little more able to accommodate The National who strolled on about 9.15 as planned. From the outset they all looked much more comfortable on stage than I had seen them before, especially Matt Berninger. But then again they have been on tour pretty much for a year now, so if they aren’t used to it now I guess they never will be.

The success of High Violet led me to worry that maybe they had gotten all grand and rock starry, but nothing seems to have changed too much and thankfully, this time around at least, we are still able to see them in medium sized venues and not the grim caverns that are the stadium circuit.

The reassuringly haphazard interchange and banter between the band and the crowd built up the rapport and the crowd was treated to a quick body roll that apparently had gone down especially well with the Paris audience the previous night (well, the French… you know…)

Sound wise the vocals nicely up in the mix, the guitars sounding clear and sharp, the smallbrass section more than making up for the lack of Padma’s violin; what more could you ask for. It was really pleasing to hear lots of older songs from Cherry Tree and Sad Songs (Murder Me Rachel, All the Wine etc) as well as the expected slew from High Violet – is it heresy to say that I still love the older stuff the most? Not surprising the encore felt very much part of the set, nicely prepared and all, with the unamplified version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks proving an intimate end to a great show

Warwick (well Coventry really)

Another day and an even colder night; this time an hour and 45 minute schlep up from home to Coventry after a day’s worth of rather grim meetings in London. Tonight’s gig is with the over-excited @IDSupremo who is waiting for me in the frankly rather plush environs of the Warwick Arts Centre at the university.

A big step up from the sticky-floored Bristol Academy the venue is really rather nice but the student stewards all seemed a little unaccustomed to a gig crowd. We had to exchange our tickets for some nasty wrist bands (so now’t going onto the memory wall in the form of tickets, herrumph) and then we waited like greyhounds in the traps before a race. Jesse from Phosphorescent came out and moaned about the cold and why there was no-one in the hall when they were due on in 15 minutes. We convinced our door minder that the other doors were open (they weren’t quite) and then followed a decidedly unseemly fast walk/ pathetic run, a bit of shoving and Lo! we were at the front, hands on crush bar right in the centre – a prime and ultra spot. A good laugh at we two chaps who were old enough to know better, beating off the young upstarts behind us.

Phosphorescent played essentially the same set as the previous night except this time it was a bit more familiar and consequently more enjoyable. Good stuff. A decidedly enjoyable set that sounds much rockier live than it does on record

There was a looooong set up due to amp issues for the bass but eventually on they came with the same mix of  new and old songs (albeit with a few tweaks like Green Gloves in lieu of All the Wine and so on). With a bigger stage the backdrop played feeds from the band-facing cameras and the odd piece of video footage which jollied up the background a bit.

Tonight was Thanksgiving, although they didn’t seem too sure what thanks was being given for, and they had all (23 of them) been out for a slap up lunch somewhere suitable historic (at least superficially anyhow) and confessed to being a little bit ‘ragged’. The Berninger wine was polished off which clearly helped him get into the mood a bit and he duly threw himself into it all, although there was no body rolling or water bottle juggling tonight. The mic stand in particular took a pasting, ending up rather bent and lop-sided.

Tonight’s tottering along the crush bar, supported by hands from the crowd, was saveduntil the very last un-amplified encore @IDSupremo and I were childishly and extravagantly thrilled to be in absolutely the right spot for Matt to climb the barrier, towering directly above us as he shouted out the words to Crybaby Geeks – we couldn’t have been more thrilled if we had been in Thrill Land. Jumping down into the crowd gave security a heart attack but a National crowd is scarcely going to rip apart the lead of their bestest band. I am indebted to whigwhambam for his (?) excellent momento of the evening in the form of the video of the Crybaby Geeks encore… that’s us down at the front you know!

The night was even better than Bristol – not necessarily musically, but through being so close and involved – upfront and personal. A cracking night, they came off stage about 11.20 and left me and @IDSupremo to wend our ways home, for me a long drive in the frosty night getting back well into the wee small hours, but worth every ounce of effort.

Next week its just me on my Jack Jones for one of their two nights at the Brixton Academy. Seems to me that after such a long, long tour we might not see them back on these shores for quite some time; hence my greedy grabbing of shows this time around. Bless them – quite brilliant, and they are right, I am not sure the crowd find their songs as depressing as the band thinks they are!

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2 Responses to The National – Bristol and Warwick

  1. @IDSupremo says:

    Quite simply – the best gig EVER – thank you RHC!

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