The National @ Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow, 6 Aug

In the dampest of conditions at Kelvingrove Bandstand, The National still shine bright

Live Review by Max Sefton | 08 Aug 2019
  • The National live at Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow, 6 Aug

Just a few years ago you were more likely to find condoms and needles in the dilapidated Kelvingrove bandstand than indie rock stars. Now the Art Deco venue has been transformed into one of the most memorable places to catch a gig in town, this summer playing host to the likes of Patti Smith, Bloc Party and tonight’s headliners The National.

The bandstand’s amphitheatre-esque tiers and park backdrop make it an intimate location to see a band whose eight albums have seen them transform from indie also-rans to vanguard purveyors of brooding indie rock.

Tonight, most of the band seem glad the stage has a roof but the torrents of rain pouring from the sky can’t slow down charismatic frontman Matt Berninger, who frequently voyages out into the crowd regardless. Musically there can be few bands better suited to a downpour than The National; their verbose, often melancholic songs offset by the pitter-patter of raindrops on rain macs.

Easing up through the gears with a series of tracks from their new record, the first big cheers come for a fantastic Hey Rosey with Berninger lending a special heft to its opening line: 'I'm your angel when it rains, dear' as the droplets ping down.

With 11 musicians on stage, including a trio of backing singers, the band are already practically spilling out of the bandstand but they find room for one more as CHVRCHES' Lauren Mayberry joins them for I Need My Girl and a well-received cover of Frightened Rabbit’s My Backwards Walk.

Backlash to The National has typically tended to focus on a certain self-seriousness that can translate into dreariness, but one thing that is undeniable is that, live, Berninger really feels these lyrics. A song as obtuse as Bloodbuzz Ohio is lent fresh fire by a frontman who refuses to succumb to cartoonish rockstardom, even as he unpicks the masculine foibles of which he admits his complicity.

As the sun sets, the gig gets better and better. Green lights shine from the stage as Sleep Well Beast’s angry The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness points the way toward a fists-in-the-air Fake Empire and a closing Rylan, the most crowd-piquing moment on their latest album.

Already heading for the two-hour mark, an uproarious encore of Light Years sees Berninger disappear into the crowd once more while Mr. November is a welcome flashback to their more heavily post-punk-influenced early records, despite the frontman twice trying and failing to mount his monitor to sing the chorus. Sadly there's no time for Pink Rabbits or Squalor Victoria but an acoustic Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks brings the show to a close on a moment of communal intimacy.

Throughout their career The National have been all about the slow burn. In the dampest of conditions, they still shine brightly.