The National are one of a select group of American bands who could apply for residency in Ireland – with Pixies and Bruce Springsteen a couple that stand out, playing almost annually without much bitching about overkill.
From three-night runs at the Olympia, to outdoor slots at Iveagh Gardens and Longitude, and big event 3Arena gigs, the band incite genuine fervour when shows are announced, and when they sell out and leave plenty begging for tickets on the social media sidelines.
These three shows have taken on a greater sense of urgency than their previous few visits. Last year’s Longitude headliner had them stuck for new songs, touring Trouble Will Find Me for three years, even if they still stretched the limits of how intense a nominally indie-rock band can be playing for a pissed-up Irish festival crowd.
This time round, though, they’ve a new album to get off their chest, and Sleep Well Beast is only a week old – so expect another few nights of catharsis.
Words like moody, sombre, slow-burning and morose have been following The National around since their 2001 debut album. But 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me was a low-key counterpoint to High Violet in 2010, which had its trademark sombre mood, as well as some genuine epic turns such as Conversation 16, Bloodbuzz Ohio and the admittedly over-played Terrible Love.
Sleep Well Beast sees the band lose some of their restraint, with a few concessions to singer Matt Berninger’s wilder stage persona – downing bottles of wine, crawling over the crowd, punching his chest.
The album has some of the only surprises on National albums in years. Turtleneck is the heaviest song they’ve ever released, with garagey riffs straight from the Crazy Horse songbook, Berninger teetering on the edge of losing his voice and a squealing guitar solo, all wrapped up in three minutes.
I’ll Still Destroy You – the ultimate National song title – is propelled on a skittery electronic drum loop, and Born To Beg is another track that’s raised by some majestic electronics.
In the last few years we’ve seen some epic National gigs and moments – from Berninger walking across the whole crowd to the very back of the Olympia for the a capella Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, to him throwing a bottle of red 30ft into the air at the Iveagh Gardens. There’s always drama, but the National are never anything short of intense. There’ll be plenty of these moments over the next few days, and expect them to keep selling out gigs in Ireland for years.
- Published in Irish Daily Star, September 15, 2017