Tickets for The National (which is one of the events on offer at the Perth International Arts Festival) sold out almost immediately upon release, and it is testament to the band's strong Australian fan base, who showed up in their thousands last night to soak in the moody, vocals and powerful lyrics of lead singer, Matt Berninger, and other band members Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Bryan Devendorf and Scott Devendorf.
I had always imagined, given the nature of his songs, that Matt Berninger, who also pens The National's tracks, would embody the tortured artist (one of the band’s major hits is aptly titled "Sorrow"), channeling his ennui into world-weary songs, however his stage presence and comically-charged interaction with the crowd went a long way towards dispelling this myth. He is the consummate entertainer, with a dash of your traditional rebellious rock god thrown in (exemplified by a few dramatic beer-chucking, mic-throwing antics, towards the end of the evening.)
Considering the group has been together since 1999, you'd hope that they'd have polished their live performances, but what I wasn't expecting was the clear camaraderie that exists between the band members, a connection that bands with an even longer history don't necessarily achieve. Matt Berninger apologised profusely for the absence of a band member who had recently become a dad, saying that it was a shame, since he was “the best looking member of the group."
In fact, humour is key to Matt Berninger’s routine – the singer praising our world-class San Pellegrino (and donating his bottle to a delighted fan at the end of the night) as well as alternately praising and berating a local winery owner for her free alcoholic gifts and his subsequent hangover.
Despite my favourite song not getting air time (namely "Fireproof"), the band played the majority of their better-known songs, covering fan favourites "Looking for Astronauts," "Fake Empire," "Terrible Love," "Afraid of Everyone," "England" and many more. The band was also backed by a trombone and trumpet player who gave a kind of orchestral grandeur to some of The National’s more dramatic tracks.
Support act, Melbourne duo Luluc (who have also called Brooklyn home since 2010), returned home with songs from their debut album "Dear Hamlyn," and though the sense of similarity that usually exists between support and main acts wasn’t readily apparent (if anything, they've got a slight country and western feel about them), they did admirably, and with the help of Aaron Dessner (who collaborates with them on their next album) they're bound to further refine their act.
Belvoir Amphitheatre, despite its exorbitant charges for food and refreshments (a bottled water will set you back $5), is arguably one of Perth's best outdoor music venues, a fact echoed by Matt Berninger, who praised it for its beauty and versatility.
The night was topped off by a brilliant encore that had Matt Berninger venturing out into the crowd, trailing his mic behind him, and running through an audience that were more than happy to help him scale Belvoir’s rather steep gradient, before ending the set with a beautiful acoustic performance.
Altogether, this is what you'd expect if you're a fan of The National. And some. It's rare for the vocals to be better live than they are on the album, but Matt Berninger manages to pull it off, and is to be reckoned with for his powerful vocal stylings and on-stage charisma.
If the crowd response is anything to go by (the band exited to a standing ovation), we'll hopefully be seeing The National back here soon.
Venue: Belvoir Amphitheatre
Date: Friday 14 February
Time: 8:00 pm
Tickets: $86 – $89.50
Part of the 2014 Perth Festival