It’s not every gig you almost get flattened by the lead singer, but this wasn’t every gig, and The National’s Matt Berninger is not every singer.
The National came to Cork last night on the back of high expectations, their 2013 gig at the Marquee having gone down in legend as one of the highlights of last year’s lineup.
But on a Monday night after the Munster final, would Cincinatti’s finest draw the crowds down to the tent by the Lee? Emphatically – yes.
— Des (@despod) July 14, 2014
Anyone with doubts as to the drawing power of Berninger and the Dessner/Devendorf brothers underestimates the fervour of their fans.
Despite this gig not being a sellout, The National inspire almost a religious zeal among those who appreciate their broody brand of orchestral indie rock, which lent itself to an electrifying atmosphere under the Marquee’s blue-and-yellow canvas last night, both band and crowd feeding off each other’s energy.
The Marquee. The National. That is all.— Donal O'Keeffe (@Donal_OKeeffe) July 14, 2014
A small and subdued crowd for support band Phosphorescent – aka Brooklyn-based Matthew Houck, a fine artist in his own right but with a subtle, country-tinged sound that was somewhat lost in a room of this size – swelled considerably as The National took to the stage on time at 8.30pm, opening with ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ from 2013 album ‘Trouble Will Find Me’.
Musically, The National are all about crescendos. Their signature sound opens with a melancholy brooding that builds, in no small part thanks to the thundering drums of sticksman Bryan Devendorf, to a peak of emotional bombast and belt-em-out choruses, Berninger’s throaty roar leading the way, before fading out on a plaintive trumpet note.
In many ways, last night’s performance followed a similar path, with The National’s slower, broodier tunes dominating the first half – punctuated by the epic anthem that is ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, played early on in the set to rapturous response – before the aggressive urgency of some of their rockier numbers let the gig really take off in the second act.
The National closed the first part of their set on a high, with ‘Pink Rabbits’ and ‘Fake Empire’ in particular catching fire, while Berninger’s plunge into the crowd for a signature walkabout (during which, yes, he almost flattened me) sent a pulse of electric energy through the crowd. As the band left the stage grown men shed tears of elation, in sights more reminiscent of Páirc Uí Chaoimh just down the road (yes, really).
But they weren’t gone for long, and it was during the encore that things got really memorable, with Berninger clambering through the stands for ‘Mr November’ and a barnstorming version of ‘Terrible Love’ prompting the entire audience, as one, to roar the refrain ’It takes an ocean not to break’ in one of the most goosebump-inducing moments this correspondent has seen at a gig in a long time.
And finally, for the encore finale – a moment of peace and clarity. Off went the technicolour visuals and the band stepped forward into simple spotlights for a stripped-down version of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’.
Led by a mike-less Berninger and sung by every throat in the house, it was a moment when the night was transformed from a concert into a communal experience.
Something spiritual was in the air, and more tears were shed before the lights came up and a happily stunned Cork audience spilled back into the city night with goosebumps on their goosebumps.