Thursday 4 July 2024

Live Review: The National - Cardiff Castle, 03 July 2024

With the dust just about settled on their phenomenal Other Stage headline show at Glastonbury, The National made their very welcomed return to the Welsh capital for what was set to be another resounding display of emotive, guitar fuelled catharsis. With the release of 2 albums last year, born out of a creative expulsion that saw the band build ideas on the fly at soundchecks and in quick succession, they have channelled that energy in to a live show like no other. And tonight proved to be why they're one of the best live touring bands of the last decade.

With the unique castle grounds at capacity, fans eagerly awaited the band's arrival, and as the screen on stage became illuminated with a live feed to backstage, the crowd cheered in anticipation as they got to see a unique insight in to their pre-stage rituals, making a final toilet break with Matt getting a humorous applause as he emerged from the Portaloo. 

With bladders emptied, they wasted no time with the deep cuts as they dived in to "Runaway" from their fifth studio album High Violet - an opener to set the tone of the evening as Matt's baritone raspy vocals laid bare for all. 

The set-list is meticulously crafted to showcase the band's extensive repertoire that is now at an all time impressive size. The beloved early track "Bloodbuzz Ohio" is featured prominently, while recent songs from their two albums released last year harmonize well with the timeless classics. And classics they are. Fans get treated a brilliant back catalogue exploration through "The Geese of Beverly Road" and "Cherry Tree" from their EP of the same name that was released in 2004. 

Despite the serious nature of their music and grounding lyrical content, the band are fine spirit as Bryce and Aaron lead audience handclaps and smiled ear to ear as they thrashed out their soaring guitar solos. Elsewhere Matt made full use of the stage meandering side to side, as he regularly jumped down for some audience participation. This was inclusive of him gathering up everyone's hat from the front row until he had accumulated quite the collection upon his head.

As he clambered on stage it was straight back to business as the band charged through "Deep End (Paul's in Pieces)" and "Smoke Detector", a track that's become a monstrous live piece that perfectly encapsulated Berninger's ramblings as snarling percussion and overlaying guitars pummelled from all angles. 

The National’s live shows have always been defined by the unique yet understated chemistry between Berninger and the Dessners, and their stage banter is brilliant to witness. From Matt talking about how the brothers would leave hamburgers outside his door to which they said he failed to acknowledge, to him putting his microphone to Aaron's guitar whilst he played saying "I always wondered how the sound came out of these things", their relationship is built upon this dishevelled yet brotherly love and whilst on paper it shouldn't work, it does so well. 

To an outsider it really does look to be the most fun the band have had on recent tours and it goes to show in the musicianship on display as they round up a career defining set. Berninger is no amateur when it comes to encores though as he announced this was more for a pee break as they shortly returned for 5 further tracks. Having recently ended on "About Today" which live, is a totally different beast, fans were in for an added treat.

With the mic turned on to the crowd it was inevitable what was coming. A unique and touching end to an incredible show, as bassist Scott Devendorf and his drumming brother Bryan join the brass section centre stage as Matt gets in to the crowd for a final time for the audience acoustic rendition of their synonymous closer "Vanderlyle".

It goes without saying, The National delivered a performance that was both emotionally charged and musically impeccable. The palpable energy in the venue was a testament to the band's enduring appeal and their ability to connect with fans on a profound level. And as they filed out, the conversations soon buzzed with shared moments and favourite songs, creating a sense of community that extended far beyond the music. It was clear that this night would be remembered for the exceptional shared experience that The National had so masterfully orchestrated. I think we now all understand why Matt was so fearful he'd eat our brains.

The National Played:

Tropic Morning News
Don't Swallow the Cap
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Geese of Beverly Road
Apartment Story
Conversation 16
Cherry Tree
Deep End
Smoke Detector
Day I Die
Fake Empire
Light Years
Mr. November
Terrible Love
About Today

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