The National | Alexandra Palace | 13 November 2013
Matt Berninger needs time to warm up. Dressed in suit and tie, the bearded-and-bespectacled National frontman looks like a socially awkward university lecturer as he nervously paces to-and-fro. The gulps of red wine from a plastic cup only reinforce the impression.
But by the encore he’s been swallowed up by the crowd, raging “Mr November, I won’t fuck us over” somewhere amongst the first few rows, without a thought for the roadie desperately wrangling the microphone cord.
And the transformation is complete as, back on stage, he ends the night by leading the packed Alexandra Palace in a sweaty mass singalong of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ with all the confidence of Bono.
Yet, even when he comes across as Dustin Hoffman in ‘Rain Man’, Berninger’s honeyed baritone is in fine form, pouring dark emotion all over the tasteful (read restrained) playing of his faceless bandmates. Their near anonymity is only reinforced by the striking visuals – giant back screen flanked by three walls of light – but the four musicians still shine through on set highlights ‘Mistaken For Strangers’, ‘Fake Empire’, ‘Terrible Love’, and, of course, ‘Mr November’.
Unsurprisingly most rapturously received is ‘England’, the next level in “We love you [insert city name here]” crowd baiting. With made-to-order lyrics like “You must be somewhere in London/ You must be loving your life in the rain/ You must be somewhere in London/ Walking Abbey Lane” this band know how to connect with an audience – on their own terms.