The National, Caroline Martin

Anne-Marie Douglas 01/07/2008

Before I begin, it's only fair to get one thing straight, I'm a massive fan of The National; some might say mildly obsessed. This will be a biased review; there, it's out in the open now.

When I first heard The National it was one of those rare and magical 'new band discovery' moments; a 'yes, yes, yes! I must hear every song this band has ever made…yesterday!' And so, it is no surprise, and with some shame, that I admit I have seen them three times since May this year; 90 minutes of joy at ATP, the final Glastonbury set headlining the John Peel stage, and in lovely Leeds, lucky me. (Note to other geek fans that will probably get this sad attempt at beloved song reference)!

With no thanks to local rail delays, I'm late and gutted to know I've missed support act Caroline Martin and The National's set opener 'Start a War'. The venue is heaving and despite the intolerable heat, the crowd is full of happy, seemingly like-minded and excitable National fans. Like the crowd, The National are on top form, with front-man Matt swigging from a bottle of wine and seemingly becoming progressively more intoxicated as the night goes on, this all adds to the fervour in the venue and is possibly explained by the announcement later that it is Bryan (drummer extraordinaire)'s birthday today, as they invited us all to sing 'Happy Birthday' together; special; yes.

'Secret Meeting' is met with a cheer from the grateful crowd as they sing along to opener, 'I think this place is full of spies, I think they're on to me, didn't anybody, didn't anybody tell you, didn't anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room' and then to 'I'm so sorry for everything' from the reassuringly emotive 'Baby, We'll Be Fine'. The abstract, bittersweet lyrics of 'Slow Show' are heartbreaking when sung by Berninger and the accompaniment far more powerful live, than the gentler recording on Boxer. Predictably, the crowd go semi-mental for the more up-tempo, 'Abel' as does Berninger flailing around for the chorus. 'Apartment Story' is enthralling, with lyrics that not many could get away with; 'Oh, we're so disarming, darling' and ending with the disabling, 'so worry not, all things are well, we'll be alright, we have our looks and perfume.'

'Fake Empire' is a triumph, with its humble beginnings building to a crescendo of all-encompassing beauty. Caroline Martin appears for the encore for the only song that didn't engage the crowd, many chattering through the schmaltzy sentimental lyrics of 'Without Permission' and then 'Cherry Tree', a song they tell us hasn't been played live for four years. The opening chords of 'All The Wine' bring the crowd back to form, as does the passionate and well-paced 'Mr. November' to which all do go truly mental, a fitting ending to a memorable night.

To be fair, there's never going to be enough for me, so I would've liked 'About Today' from the Cherry Tree EP, also 'Cardinal Song' and 'Lucky You' from the exceptionally titled Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, and the crowd did not receive Karen or Murder Me Rachel which were hollered for all night, however, beautiful harmonies, talented musicians, the most enthusiastic violinist I have ever seen, a trumpet and trombone equals a night of pure magic; This is music with meaning, have no doubt about that.

The National are not yet there with mainstream popularity, I for one am happy with that for now, it's like a small geeky fan club when you go to a gig of theirs; surrounded by like-minded National geekatrons mouthing along to the lyrics, yes, you do do that! Perhaps it is because it really isn't easy to describe their music; its eloquent, intelligent lyrics that resonate with people for a host of different reasons, its' the energy and passion of The National live experience; it's the deeply sexy bruised voice of frontman Matt Berninger, I could go on, but for a long time…

I suspect this will all change soon with The National playing exhaustively this summer at most major UK, American and European festivals; a nation of The National geeks? God forbid…