I went to see The National last night

…and it was immense.

I am freaking obsessed with that band. On average, I probably listen to three albums a day (it’s a long, melancholy commute from SE5 to W11), which is excessive by anyone’s standards. Having got the tickets for last night’s O2 arena spectacular straight after their summer show in Hyde Park, I’ve been anticipating this gig for months (I have the flyer framed in my hallway, for Christ’s sake).

So you can imagine how pissed off I was when my body decided to have a panic attack JUST AS THEY CAME ON STAGE. Out of the crowd I ran (or at least tried), with the obligatory pint of wine in hand, and after sitting on the floor FTFO (freaking the eff out), a kindly security guard escorted me to the seating area and told me to sit down. Ever the opportunist, I decided to go for one of the many empty seats in the disabled access area and, despite having to ditch my pals, had a grand old time. Bloody fantastic view from there!

Sat on my own, in the dark, drinking wine, listening to The National; standard Wednesday eve really, except this time they were live(!!!) 🙂

For the full setlist, have yourselves a wee scroll to the bottom; but for now, I’ll list the stand-out songs…



Afraid of Everyone

High Violet is one of my favourite albums, but by and large I’d say the second half WAY outsmarts the first. A song from the first half, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this quite as much as I did, but it was truly stellar. I think it was more down to the performance than the song itself – search #NTNLO2 on Twitter or Instagram and you’ll see that the majority of the photos depict the intense light show they put on for this song.

As an aside, I don’t take photos at big gigs anymore. As a woman of limited height, I get really annoyed by the fact that when I finally stand on my tippy toes enough to see the stage, some prick inevitably skews my view with his iPhone screen. I may not take photos in an effort to avoid hypocrisy, but I immediately scour Twitter and Instagram to stalk others’ photos, so I guess that’s kinda pretentious.

Anyway, the momentous start to the song saw huge beams of green light from the floor to the ceiling, creating a cage around the band. As the song built up, the beams of light came down until they followed Matt Berninger onto the floor of the stage, singing (read:screaming in his own beautiful way) “your voice has stolen my soul, soul, soul” over and again.

I didn’t realise epic minimalism was a thing, but there you have it! Bloody handsome performance.


Squalor Victoria

I have two favourite things about The National: the lyrics (obviously) and the drumming. Every time I want to demonstrate to someone just how good the drumming is, I don’t know which song to get them to listen to because THERE ARE JUST SO MANY. From now on, though, it’ll be Squalor Victoria; hands down. And luckily for me, the boys gave us an extended drum solo at the intro.

Bravo, chaps.


Guest Room

So there I was, enjoying the little natter the band were having with the audience about how they got signed in London by Roger Trust of Beggars Banquet Records (now 4AD, to which they’re still signed today). You know, still slurping on my wine, trying to remind myself that being alone and watching The National is still better than anything in the world except being with my best buddy and watching The National.

They launched into Guest Room, one of their many songs about weird sex (“they’ll find us here, here, here, in the guest room, where we throw money at each other and cry… Oh my”). Typically embarrassed, Matt was punching the microphone as he sang the chorus each time. Who knew being bad in bed could be so sexy?

At this point, I noticed a small altercation going on behind me behind an over-zealous fan and a security guard…


All the Wine

…And in a brutally poetic moment, said fan was thrown out for being too drunk, just as All the Wine came on. Bad luck, friend.

I bloody love this song, so I got up and shook my thang for it. Aforementioned obligatory pint of wine still in hand, naturally.



I haven’t seen the Mistaken for Strangers documentary, made by Tom Berninger; a filmmaker living in the shadow of his musical brother. This is partially because my best pal and I have matching opinions on everything and she said Tom’s bitterness paints The National in a bad light and I absolutely refuse to have my opinion of these guys tainted by anything (love is blind, and I intend to keep it that way). Anyway, it was Tom’s birthday, so after telling the 35 year old to ‘move out of his f*cking garage already’, Matt dedicated this song to him because apparently he thinks all of the slow songs are balls.

Wrong again, Tom.

Anyway, at this point, Aaron casually mentions that the song is about two brothers who kill each other. Is it? I’d never have guessed.

What made this a stand out song in the set? The fact that it was so intense it made the studio version seem positively cool, calm and collected.



Alongside weird sex, I think their tip top subject matter is sadness. Many will know they once performed this song on a loop for six hours in MOMA as part of an installation artwork called A Lot of Sorrow by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. That’s 105 times.

I reckon that’s enough to kill any song for any band so I was surprised to hear them play this again (they played it in Hyde Park earlier this year). Better still, Matt wasn’t in quite a sorrowful enough mood to sing at this point (in fact, he was searching for a couple of tequila shots) so we got a big old intro; and I do love a big old intro.



I mean, it’d just be RUDE if they didn’t play England. Dedicated to Wild Beasts (we won’t discuss the fact that I missed their set due to the TWO HOUR rush-hour taxi ride I had to take to the venue to avoid the tube because of these goddamn panic attacks). More chats about having played their first gig in London 14 years ago. Damn, why wasn’t I there? Oh yeah, I was 10.

One of the things I haven’t mentioned so far is the fact that whoever is behind the VJing is an absolute genius. Great graphics of, you guessed it, rain to compliment this song (“you must be somewhere in London, you must be loving your life in the rain…”).


Fake Empire

Not to be too bait or anything, as this is one of the band’s blockbuster tunes, but this one obviously stood out to me. The last song before the encore (Ada, Mr November, Terrible Love, Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks), it was kind of like being read a bedtime story. Except I’m an adult and I’m drunk. But you know, same levels of comfort.



So there we have it. And the songs they didn’t play that I can’t wait to hear at the next gig, or the next, or the next?

  1. Exile Vilify
  2. It Never Happened
  3. Theory of the Crows
  4. Lucky You


Full setlist of the evening:

  1. Don’t Swallow the Cap
  2. I Should Live in Salt
  3. Mistaken for Strangers
  4. Bloodbuzz Ohio
  5. Sea of Love
  6. Demons
  7. Hard to Find
  8. Afraid of Everyone
  9. Conversation 16
  10. Squalor Victoria
  11. I Need My Girl
  12. This Is the Last Time
  13. Guest Room
  14. All the Wine
  15. Abel
  16. Slow Show
  17. Sorrow
  18. Pink Rabbits
  19. England
  20. Graceless
  21. About Today (with Nico Muhly)
  22. Fake Empire
  23. Ada (with ‘Chicago’ by Sufjan Stevens outro)
  24. Mr. November
  25. Terrible Love
  26. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks


8 thoughts on “I went to see The National last night

  1. Ehi, Great review but you should definitely see Mistaken for strangers, it’s a deep, emotional portrait of a relationship between brothers and no bad lights on the band!

  2. Great review! I’m pleased you still managed to haver a fantastic time despite various things against you. And Wild Beasts were a bit cringey, you didn’t miss much 🙂

    1. Aw, thanks! What made WB cringey? I’ve checked out their tour dates and am trying to figure out whether I can go to Leeds after work, see them, and get back to London in time for work the following morning. Ambitious…

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