APE Presents: The National @ Victoria Park, London, 2 Jun

The National tower above their peers in their curated edition of London's All Points East festival

Live Review by Adam Turner-Heffer | 14 Jun 2018

Following on from last weekend's festival of the same name, this second weekend sees All Points East presenting three all-day concerts at a slightly reduced size from the full-blown festival. Though Friday's headliners of Catfish and the Bottlemen seem a little surprising for a still-pretty-big event, there is no doubting Nick Cave's status for the Sunday show, as the only day to sell out over the two weekends.

The National, sitting between them on Saturday, are only now approaching the level of festival headliners, albeit if they perhaps announced that themselves with their own festival in Copenhagen last year. Still, with last year's Sleep Well Beast yet another commercial and critical success, it's hard to argue at this stage that the Ohioans don't belong there amongst the Nick Caves, Björks and LCD Soundsystems.

Before The National's set, however, is a fairly strong, big-name line-up in what is essentially a mini-festival of its own. We arrive in time to catch the end of Spoon, who are by now fairly accustomed to playing rather big stages themselves and look pretty content soaking in the early June sun. And in all honesty, when you have such an impressive amount of undeniably catchy indie rock and pop songs in your arsenal, it's not at all surprising to see why they seem to be enjoying themselves, as the crowd happily sings back all the words to tracks like The Underdog.

Next, on the smaller bandstand stage that we still can't quite believe the likes of Pheonix, Lorde and Beck were playing just last weekend, are Broken Social Scene, whose many members only just fit on the surprisingly intimate stage. BSS's stock has fallen considerably since their breakout 2002 album You Forgot It in People, where they briefly felt like the most vital and exciting band in all of rock music. However, last year's Hug of Thunder was something of a return to form and it's nice to see the Canadian multi-member band still bang out great songs both old and new, such as KC Accidental, 7/4 Shoreline and, Hug of Thunder highlight, Halfway Home. The real treat is of course Cause=Time, which some 15 years later still remains one of the greatest indie rock songs ever written, something even audience members new to the band could immediately pick up on.

Following on from them, Cat Power plays a strangely short set, which fails to really catch much of the imagination of the crowd, though she does segue into an excellent cover of The Cure's Just Like Heaven mid-set. Warpaint are able to be somewhat more game for the festival crowd, with their sound complementing the intensely sunny day rather well. Future Islands, after them, manage to ramp this up even further, especially by the time of festival favourite Seasons (Waiting on You). No such luck for The War on Drugs however, who continue down their endlessly dull path of middle-of-the-road radio rock, struggling to hold the attention of vast swathes of the gathered crowd at times, though admittedly Red Eyes and Under the Pressure do allow those who haven't already left to get a good spot for the headliners.

And so to The National, who are immediately on tremendous form this evening. For the most part, the crowd are hanging on every word coming out of Matt Berninger's seductive lips, every guitar-lick and dual harmonies from the Dessner twins, every angular-yet-driving rhythm from the Devendorfs on new tracks such as Guilty Party and Carin at the Liquor Store. While last year's HAVEN set leaned a little too heavily on their latest record, which wasn't yet out at the time, and too many guests, tonight they hit the perfect balance between songs from across their back catalogue as the sun sets on a beautiful day in East London. In response, the crowd are right there with them throughout.

Ever the professionals, The National have an incredible ability for building their sets towards a huge climactic run of songs, from a few staple choices such as Squalor Victoria and Slow Show. When the band do reach their final run of Fake Empire, Mr. November, Terrible Love (performed with Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs), About Today – dedicated to Scott Hutchison – and finishing on their well-known acoustic version of Vandervyle Crybaby Geeks, the audience get to experience an incredible amount of highs and lows, before being sent off happily continuing to sing the final song's refrain into the night. 

Ultimately, despite the big names available on display today, The National tower above all of them, cementing their status as a main-event headlining band, and long may it continue.