The National

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author TL date 20/06/13 venue Loppen, Copenhagen, DEN

If you keep up with music, you probably know that The National are a relatively big deal. Even here in Denmark, they're booked to play the gargantuan Orange Stage at Roskilde festival, only to return to the country to play in Copenhagen's largest arena venue less than 6 months later. So I'm guessing most of the people that saw it when the band announced a show at Christiania's bar venue Loppen (capacity 450) immediately realised just how ridiculous that was. And then maybe some of them thought about it for a second and then really realised how completely mad such a booking is. What I mean is that romantically, you might think "Wow, that's going to be one rare, intimate show full of really dedicated fans" - and that is true enough - but realistically you must also realise that "wow, that show is going to be sooooo unpleasantly packed". And sure enough, tickets sold out in less than four minutes, and it was only in the last minute I managed to secure access for myself - and sadly without a photographer, so you'll have to make do with just my words (or you could go see a few pictures here).

The National

Now, there are many different kinds of shows, and I tend to think that it rarely makes sense to compare or review all of them on the same terms. But tell me, how do I review a show in which I - along with probably a good 70-80% of the crowd - could not see any of the bandmembers for the sheer amount of people around Loppen's barely raised stage? Standing directly in front of the sound desk, I could maybe get a peek of lead singer Matt Berninger's head every once in a while if I stood on my toes, but mostly, the majority of the crowd and I had to make do with just the sound. It's a good thing then, that The National can really play live, and that they have a veritable banquet of great songs to choose from.

Starting out with a double punch from their newest album "Trouble Will Find Me", "I Should Live In Salt" and "Don't Swallow The Cap" garner the quick recognition they clearly deserve, before you really feel the crowd getting an outlet for their anxiety when already classic singles "Secret Meeting" and "Bloodbuzz Ohio" are aired. The Cincinatti band prove to be quite generous with their newer songs in especially the first half of the set, with "Sea Of Love", "Slipped", "This Is The Last Time" and "I Need My Girl" all making appearances around "High Violet" stand-out "Afraid Of Everyone". Meanwhile, Berninger and his mates fill the gaps between songs with downplayed, humorous banter, clearly trying to act like the situation is a little less outrageous than what's really the case.

Things are crazy though, although surprisingly undramatically so. Between the stage and sounddesk there is barely inches between people to move around, and with the venue hot as a sauna, everbody has been soaked in perspiration from before the show even started. Yet I don't notice anyone acting like the heat is getting to them, and folks are slipping in and out of the throng for bar-runs with relative ease. Moreover, even the people who clearly can't see a thing seem to have smiles on their faces that only get wider with each next foray into The National's spectacular discography. Yours truly loses his shit over the personal memories invoked by "The Geese Of Beverly Road" and "England", but many more cuts are aired, as the show gradually closes in on the two hour mark and as especially the parts of songs that are underscored with vivid horn lines create an ecstatic vibe in the room. The horn bordering on the shrill and Berninger's occasional slips into off-tune notes or pained yelps or screams, are exactly the masterful imperfections that lend The National a live-edge that you can't but love from a band of their widespread popularity.

By the time the band first makes an exit following "Fake Empire", it's no surprise then, that they will not be allowed to remain backstage. A dedicated thunder of claps and stomps summon the band back for a whopping five-song encore, a highlight of which arrives when Berninger goes for a crowd-walk during the cathartic "I WON'T FUCK THIS OVER!" screams of "Mr. November" - A trip he takes all the way to the outside staircase, parting the dense crowd like the Red Sea as he goes and not missing a note despite taking the venture quite far from the monitors. And after such an energetic excursion, we also get to hear the show closed with the unplugged rendition of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", which the audience dutifully sings along to. And as people then spill smilingly and gaspingly into the mercyful midnight breeze, it's really hard to fault a tour-de-force of a well-played 'National concert - Even if the dreamt-about intimacy was slightly hindered by the fact that many of us could barely move, not to mention see the band. I guess when I'm not complaining it should tell you something about what a sheer pleasure it is just to hear these guys play.

Setlist:

  • I Should Live In Salt
  • Don't Swallow the Cap
  • Secret Meeting
  • Bloodbuzz Ohio
  • Sea of Love
  • Slipped
  • Afraid of Everyone
  • Conversation 16
  • I Need My Girl
  • This is the Last Time
  • The Geese of Beverly Road
  • Abel
  • Apartment Story
  • Sorrow
  • Pink Rabbits
  • England
  • Graceless
  • About Today
  • Fake Empire

Encore:

  • Humiliation
  • Daughters of the Soho Riots
  • Mr. November
  • Terrible Love
  • Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

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