Gig Review: The National @ The Palais, 10th January

Last night I was lucky enough to see my favourite band live for the second night in a row. Although the experience for me was completely different, seated in the balcony instead of right at the front of the Stalls, there were many similarities between both shows. Because of this, I’m going to try writing one of these less-than-three-thousand-word gig reviews that people keep on telling me about. If you’re looking for a more complete (and slightly blubbering) review, as well as much better photos, it might be best to check out my review of the first night.

But anyway, it almost goes without saying that The National were also absolutely brilliant last night.

Once again I arrived at the venue in time to see all of The Middle East‘s set. And for various reasons, I actually enjoyed them a bit more than the previous night. I think the mix was much better, especially in terms of the banjo and mandolin, and the band themselves seemed just a little bit more relaxed: they introduced themselves by saying jokingly “Hi, we’re The National”.

Their set was identical to the previous night, but that is certainly understandable. Darkest Side and Blood were the standouts for me, but The Spoken Word Song is definitely growing on me the more I hear it live. I also maintain that Bree has the best female voice that I have ever heard- the moments where she temporarily took over lead vocals were just magical.

Once again the crowd slowly grew as The Middle East played, and by the time they had departed the stage to loud cheers The Palais was pretty much full. I was quite pleased with my seats in the Circle, only a few rows back from the very edge of the balcony, and with a very clear view of the stage. I could tell it was going to make for a completely different experience.

The night before The National had joked that they chose the wrong introduction music after walking on stage to an overly dramatic atmospheric backing track. I think they may have over-compensated track night however, because they chose a song that sounded kind of like an 80s glam disco track and really didn’t suit the show at all. Admittedly it may have been meant as a bit of an injoke with those who attended both concerts, and I certainly got a laugh out of it.

Regardless, The National took to the stage once more, and proceeded to play yet another faultless live show that was very similar to their first show but yet not without a few surprises.

Runaway opened proceedings, and once again immediately had the crowd in awe of the band. Things changed up a bit from there on in however, with Anyone’s Ghost as the second song. At the previous show Matt had used this track to get the crowd standing up, but he clearly had different plans for this night, because the crowd remained sitting for the ‘High Violet’ track.

Sure enough, during Bloodbuzz Ohio, and with no warning whatsoever, Matt jumped into the crowd and started making his way around with the mic, all the while not missing a beat. And if there is anything that will get a crowd standing up, it is that.

Brainy was a surprise inclusion, seemingly taking the place of Mistaken For Strangers, but Slow Show was just as amazing the second time round. It truly is a beautiful song, and it gave Matt’s baritone a chance to really shine: he has an amazingly smooth and overwhelmingly powerful voice live.

“I made a deal with The Palais,” he said, “I’m allowed to jump on chairs and everyone is allowed to stand up, so long as I don’t give a bottle of wine to a fourteen year old. But he looked fifteen!”. Everyone that had been at the previous show laughed, and it was great to hear how happy Matt was to still be allowed to walk out amongst the crowd.

Squalor Victoria was supremely powerful, and Lemonworld made a surprise early appearance and was yet again wonderful. The National were once again at the majestic and spellbinding best.

Afraid Of Everyone was dedicated to the victims of the Tucson shootings, and its message certainly rung out particularly true in their context: “Venom radio and venom television, I’m afraid of everyone, I’m afraid of everyone”. A cannibalism introduction led into Conversation 16 similarly to the previous night, which was followed with a series of older songs that were greeted with huge applause from the crowd.

Matt and the band were once again extremely charming and relaxed, and the crowd was also exceptional. The emotion that The National generate on stage is unparalleled by any other band that I have seen live, and it is inevitable that some of this emotion spills over into the crowd.

Then came the moment I had been waiting for, Green Gloves. It is one of my favourite The National songs, and hadn’t been played the night before. It came just at the time when I was starting to think it might not make an appearance, and it was simply spectacular. The live version was changed up quite a bit, but it really didn’t matter- this is a song that transcends everything around it, and it was absolutely magical live.

The duo of England and Fake Empire is the most amazing way to close a set that I could possibly imagine, and it made for one of those moment where the whole crowd was in awe of what we were seeing on stage. Both songs were captivating: this really is musical perfection.

With a heartfelt thanks to the crowd The National departed the stage, but everyone knew they would be coming back. Sure enough they did, and began the encore with Lucky You, a ‘Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers’ track that I hadn’t expected to hear and was brilliant.

Mr. November saw Matt once again practice his chair jumping skills, masterfully weaving between the crowd whilst screaming along with thousands of crowd members “I’M MR. NOVEMBER, I WON’T FUCK US OVER!”.

What followed was a glorious surprise: About Today. It is up there with my favourite The National songs, but I hadn’t even considered it a possibility for this show, given that the band haven’t played it live the whole tour. When that soft guitar riff began, I was almost in disbelief. The song was absolutely magical; so restrained and so beautiful. It was better live than I ever could have imagined. The closing line of “Hey, are you awake? Yeah I’m right here. Well can I ask you, about today? How close am I to losing you? How close am I to losing?” was sung almost a capella by Matt, and was simply sublime.

Terrible Love was once again amazing, although I was kind of grateful to see that Matt didn’t enter the audience again- it made the previous night seem even more special. Then it was time for the hallowed finishing song, an unplugged version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.

Despite encouragement from the band there was still only whispered singing from the crowd, but this was perfectly fine. It was completely different hearing this song from the balcony, and it was actually much easier to make out everyone singing in hushed, revered tones. It was spellbinding, and was the perfect way to end the show, and my The National experience, at least for the time being.

It had been another amazing, incredible, brilliant night of live music.

Ultimately, it is fruitless for me to compare the two shows, because I had such vastly different experiences at them. Suffice to say that each show was absolutely amazing, and I was blown away both times, despite knowing exactly what to expect from this second show.

The National are my favourite band, and these two captivating and flawless live shows only further demonstrated that this band is unique, special, and, above all else, beautiful.

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