The National are one of my favourite bands, so naturally it was a disappointment when they announced their first UK tour for ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ for the latter part of 2013 with no Scottish dates scheduled. On this basis, the announcement they would be playing Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in July this year was a pleasant surprise and something well worth looking forward too. Edinburgh has always been a less appealing choice than Glasgow for touring bands (not helped by the recent council decision to allow the Picture House, Edinburgh’s only reasonably sized city centre venue, to be turned into yet another Wotherspoons), but the Usher Hall is a terrific venue, and it catered for The National perfectly.
Often used more for orchestras and ‘theatrical’ music, the acoustics in the Usher Hall are incredible, and the sloping floor means you can get a good view from right at the back of the room (handy if you’re a small person). I first saw The National when they played Glasgow’s ABC on the ‘Boxer’ tour, and they’ve gone from strength to strength as a band since then. They’ve always been critical favourites, but they seem to be gaining commercial traction with each new release, and the sold out Usher Hall is testament to this.
The band took to the stage shortly before 9pm, beginning with a couple of songs from their latest album, ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap‘ and one of the album highlights, ‘I Should Live In Salt‘ before playing fan favourites ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ and ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’. The set as a whole was heavy on recent material, with only 3 songs throughout the evening pre-Boxer (About Today, Abel and Mr. November). ‘Sea of Love’ was an early highlight, with that terrific intro blending superbly with Matt’s powerful vocals, and ‘Conversation 16’ generating a mass singalong during the chorus. There was a fair bit of banter throughout the concert but Matt’s baritone voice and mumbles were pretty difficult for my ears to make sense off!
If I had any slight criticism of the gig, it would be that the set choice played things a little safe, and it would have been nice if a couple of surprises were thrown in from ‘Alligator’ or ‘Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers’ (this is perhaps just my longing to hear my favourite song live for the first time, ‘The Geese of Beverly Road’!). The beautiful and haunting ‘About Today’ was played towards the end of the main set before ‘Fake Empire’ came in as the closer.
The encore began with ‘Ada’, from 2007’s ‘Boxer’, before a three song salvo of fan favourites ‘Mr. November’, ‘Terrible Love’ and ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’. ‘Mr. November’ is Matt’s opportunity to go wild, and he gave a typically passionate performance which included a walk/run through the audience with the mic cable looking ready to snap! Regular closer ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ is always a highlight, a song that doesn’t really stand out on ‘High Violet’ but really comes into its own in a live setting. As they normally do, the band played the song without any microphones, with the audience singing every word back to them at the front of the stage.
Once again, The National put on a fantastic show that reaffirms their status as one of the best live acts around. 24 songs played and I was left wanting more – take the chance to see them next time they play near you!
Don’t Swallow the Cap
I Should Live in Salt
Mistaken for Strangers
Sea of Love
Hard to Find
Afraid of Everyone
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
Review by Luke Watson