Last night The National gave an outstanding performance at London’s O2. The show marked the end of their Trouble Will Find Me tour, which has seen them through international shows reaching the likes of Croatia and Vienna this year. Being the last show of a tour last night was particularly special and the band previously stated that it would be “one of their favourite nights.” The National formed fifteen years ago in Ohio, and first played a little London gig shortly after – thirteen or fourteen years ago according to lead vocalist Matt Berninger – where they were signed by Roger Trust. The indie-rock five-piece were supported by Kendal-born Wild Beasts, after both bands were part of Barclaycard’s British Summer Time at Hyde Park this year.
A diverse pool of people showed up at London’s 22,000 strong capacity venue for The National. The vast size of The O2 was strangely easy to forget, with the small stage creating an illusion of a more intimate venue, which allowed for a total submersion into the music of the night.
Wild Beasts were first to take to the stage after their extremely successful year with the release of their fourth studio album, Present Tense. Opting for a half-windmill behind them – as a replica of their Present Tense artwork – that lit up throughout the set to emphasise the impact of their songs, the band opened their 40 minute set with ‘Mecca.’ Despite the length of their set, which was perhaps too short for fans of the band, the four-piece covered a range of songs from their four studio albums, with ‘All the King’s Men’ from Two Dancers being a crowd favourite. The contrast between lead vocalist Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto voice and beanie hat-clad bassist Tom Fleming’s much lower tones created great depth in their performance, particularly on songs such as ‘Daughter.’ The band were humbled to be supporting The National, and were a credit to them.
As a standalone performance, Wild Beasts were great. It was not until The National arrived that it was possible to see the comparative scale between the two bands, everything being amplified in leaps and bounds for the main act. Their two-hour set covered almost the entirety of Trouble Will Find Me as well as touching on favourites from their full repertoire, particularly their 2011 album High Violet. The National opened with ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap,’ from their sixth album, and were accompanied throughout with stunning visuals that were overlaid on the night’s live footage. The band were imprisoned in bars created by yellow lights for ‘Afraid of Everyone’ and we were given an amazing red lightshow for ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio,’ from High Violet.
The show was almost utterly devoted to the band’s music, moving quickly between each song with very few words said. This made it all the more special when the band did interact with the crowd, giving details of particular songs, such as devoting ‘Abel’ to Matt Berninger’s brother for his 35th birthday (ironically, we hope, since it is a song about two brothers killing each other), and taking the time to perform ‘England’ as a tribute to Wild Beasts. There was something extremely moving about the performance as a whole, and the band put every ounce of energy into it, making it an honourable show to be a part of.
To find standout elements in such an all-round awe-inducing show is hard. ‘Sorrow’, played towards the end of the set, was particularly lovely to get the chance to see since the band announced that it would be the only time they would perform it. A favourite of the crowd was ‘Squalor Victoria’, from Boxer, which began with the building of clapping induced by guitarist and vocalist Bryce Dessner, giving the song great impact. The encore, and especially their final song, must be highlighted. During the penultimate song, ‘Terrible Love’, the crowd were able to follow Berninger around the venue as he plunged into the crowd, finding himself enveloped by hugging fans. The National beautifully ended with ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’, serving as a moving conclusion to the show.
It was a sad farewell to the band with the last show of their tour, but The National ended it with precision and left behind them an emotionally drained audience after such an intense, but nonetheless euphoria-inducing, performance.