The National continue to break on through to the other side, Getintothis’ Sean Bradbury finds something so pure in Manchester.
The most striking thing about seeing The National perform is the unrelenting quality and unswerving purity of their music.
How many groups around today can be said to have released three genuinely great albums in a row, with a sound still maturing as it gains mainstream momentum?
‘Breaking through’ is something Matt Berninger and co have taken in their leisurely stride.
The recent hat-trick of Boxer, High Violetand Trouble Will Find Me is perhaps the finest succession of alt rock releases since Radiohead were at their turn of the century pomp.
Each album a stirring, self-contained journey through lost love letters and tales of urban isolation.
Tonight they throw a bit of a curveball to begin, feeling their way into the evening with Don’t Swallow The Cap’s gentle swell.
Some songs suggest their own place and purpose in a set – sensitive, steady sing-a-long I Should Live in Salt provides an early emotional outlet and an unplugged Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks has become a closing staple – while other National numbers are much more pliable.
There is a wounded rawness simmering beneath the band’s understated textures and restrained tones which is afforded more forceful expression in front of an audience.
Berninger is key to the transformation, his mellifluous baritone croon often giving way to a wild rasping howl rarely heard on record.
So it is with Squalor Victoria, here delivered as organised chaos with a swirling mass of brass and drums, and later on old favourite Mr November which is positively snarled through the microphone.
The National also have a knack for crafting tunes that change gear and carry you away on a repeated refrain; the effect on Sea of Love, Afraid of Everyone and London is even more powerful when witnessed live.
The huge electronic visual backdrop at the Manchester Apollo is a clever mix of pre-recorded tricks and live shots, the splattering strobes of Bloodbuzz Ohio particularly memorable.
Terrible Love and Humiliation arrive in the encore along with Berninger’s trademark foray into the crowd; that he manages to make it back to the stage through the throng of adoring fans is always impressive.
It is a wonder how The National can maintain this level of intensity night after night on tour. But with performances like this, let’s hope they keep finding a way.
Pictures by @amplifiedparty
Further reading on Getintothis:
All Tomorrow’s Parties with The National
Pixies: Apollo, Manchester
Soundgarden: Apollo, Manchester