The National at the 02 Dublin, 10th of November 2013

There’s no-one quite like The National. They manage to be one of those thinking man’s bands whilst remaining wholly visceral, appealing to the head, heart and gut simultaneously. They do something to us that we can’t really explain, but few others could lure thousands of rain-sodden Irish folk from the comfort of their sofas and the Love-Hate finale on a miserable November night. The Cincinnati five have been taken under the wing of the Irish gig-going public, and it seems like this is a place where they are more than happy to nestle.

Sunday night’s show at The O2 is their second visit to our shores in just a few short months. Their sold-out gig at Cork’s “Live at the Marquee” last June has since become the stuff of legend. Perfection itself was achieved when the stars aligned for band, crowd and atmosphere to become a single explosive entity. No pressure or anything this time round, lads.

Predictably, expectations were skywards as we waited for the band to take to The O2’s massive stage. The National have paid their dues for their success over the past fourteen years. As their appeal broadened, they slowly upgraded venues from 2005’s fabled Whelan’s gig to the lofty heights of the Olympia, and now the cavernous O2, confirming that they are now firmly positioned in the big leagues.

We have to admit that the cathedral-sized space of the O2 had us worried. Could a band like The National who are fuelled by intimacy be misplaced in a venue of such a grand scale? We needn’t have fretted. Perhaps the proportions even helped the show to feel more like a religious experience with Matt Berninger leading the sermon like some kind of natty-looking cleric, inspiring awe and reverence amongst his congregation.

Rapturous applause greeted them as the band of brothers Dessner and Devendorf plus Berninger were joined by a brass ensemble, swelling the numbers on stage and indeed, the sense of occasion. They gently eased us into the beefy 24-song set-list with Don’t Swallow The Cap, the first single from their sixth album, ‘Trouble Will Find Me’. Ten tracks from this record would get an airing tonight, and they fit beautifully among their older well-loved numbers.

The audience provided back-up vocals from the off, suggesting that this was not the first time that most of them had seen the band play. The sheer volume of their whoops and hollers between songs implied that it probably wouldn’t be the last. Despite the din, the sound quality in The O2 was notably exceptional throughout. Berninger proved himself to be a worthy ringleader, his low register often reminiscent of a sincere, more controlled Lou Reed. He sweetened us with his tranquillising purr before unleashing his signature feral growl three songs in on Secret Meeting.

They never let us settle, switching between raucous favourites like Mr November and Squalor Victoria before taking it down several notches to a quieter, more introspective place with Slow Show and a made-over version of About Today. Then, as if to emotionally flummox us further, they introduced the elating sweep of the brass arrangements on England and Fake Empire. Dreamy visuals displayed on a triptych of screens complimented the performance perfectly.

Of course The National are sensational on record, their carefully crafted compositions reaffirm repeatedly that they are masters of their art, but it’s not until you hear and see them performed live by this powerhouse that you really understand how special these songs are. Who know’s when we’ll get to see The National again on our shores? Whenever, wherever make sure you’re part of the crowd. We dare you not to be moved.

The National Photo Gallery

Photos: Kieran Frost