The National’s fourth studio album High Violet was released last year to rave reviews, labelled a potential contender for album of the year by numerous critics (BBC, Q Magazine and Exclaim!) and has unquestionably won the hearts of fans and fellow musicians alike. Hell they even sold out the Enmore Theatre on a Friday night, so with that in mind I curiously ventured down there to see what all the fuss was about.
But after an hour and a half of monotonous, anxious music that echoes a toned down Interpol and a front man who seemed more preoccupied with his bottle of red than his crowd, I’ve have to confess I just don’t see the source of this wide spread hype. I can’t quite put my finger on the pulse of just what it is about this American quintet that had their album debuting at #3 on the US Billboard 200 and venues swarming with besotted gig goers.
Sure, vocalist Matt Berninger’s intricate baritone delivery blends smoothly with the slow-burning, grief-stricken ballads conjured up by his mellow men, but their overall melancholic sound is by no means pioneering and The National fall terribly short of providing any means of live entertainment. Besides drummer Bryan Devendorf’s uncanny resemblance to John Lennon and Berninger’s attachment to the red wine and comical in-between song banter, The National’s live show is over long and comatose. Don’t expect too much stage movement from the band, except perhaps for Berninger’s random outbursts with the microphone stand during up-tempo number Abel.
The impeccable sound quality that the Enmore Theatre usually guarantees also faulted midway through the set when the band suffered some ear-splitting feedback that could not be disguised or redeemed by witty repartee and laughter.
Naturally, the New York based group performed every track off their universally acclaimed release High Violet, each song clearly ingrained in the minds of the audience and evoking a roar of their approval. Opening with Runaway, Mistaken For Strangers and Anyone’s Ghost, the bands horn section tiptoed in as did The National’s signature sorrowful resonance.
Tracks from their preceding album Boxer were also weaved through the set list such as; Squalor Victoria and Apartment Story. But in the end it was the dark, stormy and subtle likes of Mr November and Terrible Love that electrified the crowd during the encore that I thought would never arrive.
The National are obviously not a dreadful band – their widespread critical acclaim serves to substantiate this – but in my opinion they are a highly overrated one.