[sic] Magazine

The National – Manchester Apollo, 23rd Sept 2017

Some people just don’t get The National. At the other end of the spectrum is The National live show, an echo chamber where the devoted sing back every word into the band’s beaming faces. Enigmatic frontman Matt Berninger clearly revels in the experience, these days a consummate and passionate focal point for the Ohio outfit’s rousing brand of lightly countrified indie-rock. Possibly a little under the influence, he snakes his way through a number of shuffling dance moves to the crowd’s delight, his on-stage behaviour becoming increasing erratic as the show – and it is a show – wears on.

Aided by an excellent light and projection show, The National are at the stage of their careers when they can sound clean, polished and huge and have it suit them entirely. In such a setting, even some of their recently released new album’s lesser moments make more sense than they did on record, those blissful heartland solos and classy brass parts soaring on up into the venue’s large open spaces. “I’ll Still Destroy You” may still be a bit bland and “Turtleneck” fun yet lacking, but swooning album highlights like “Carin At The Liquor Store” and “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” sound glorious, the tender “Guilty Party” dedicated touchingly too to Berninger’s wife.

Perhaps knowing in their hearts, however, it – Sleep Well Beast – isn’t the strongest in their rich catalogue, the band don’t rely too heavily on it during a set that otherwise has quite a whiff of the (recent) greatest hits about it. Albums such as Alligator and Boxer are hence not plundered extensively, but, that said, and digging all the way back to 2004’s Cherry Tree EP, the pin-drop “Wasp Nest” is given a rare airing alongside ever-classic tracks like “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and the crowd-pleasing “Afraid Of Everyone” from 2010’s High Violet, so too the spellbinding “I Need My Girl” and the stately stomp of the title track from 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me LP. Opening the encore with a cheeky cover of New Order’s “Love Vigilantes” and then closing it with a rocking rendition of “Terrible Love” from the former, the crowd finds themselves torn between tears and triumph – their heroes, The National, in turn proving themselves once again a proper heavyweight band. Pity those that still don’t get it.