The National @ OVO Hydro, Glasgow, 24 Sep

The National weaponise a near quarter-century of experience; a juxtaposition of the solemn and the sublime that enraptures Glasgow’s OVO Hydro

Live Review by Rhys Morgan | 26 Sep 2023
  • The National @ Connect Festival, 28 Aug

Tonight's show is emphatic in solidifying The National among the canon of great Alternative music. The show’s intention isn’t to break its back in proving to its adoring audience that the Cincinnati band are very good at what they do; an opening run of tracks from May’s The First Two Pages of Frankenstein convince absolutely of their prowess. Effortless and galvanised, the leading lineup of Matt Berninger and the Dessner brothers trade anecdotes between songs, providing levity to the set’s intensity. Falling in and out of interview-style repartee, they discuss concerns with the troublesome time signature of 2013’s Demons, and the Dessners’ muse on how tracks like The Geese of Beverly Road and Apartment Story are products of the band's shared residential history.

It is in this ebb and flow that means their experience creates a sense of security amongst the audience: “We’re going to play a lot of songs… Some of them are new and some of them are really old.” Dessner phrases this as some kind of warning, but with a varied audience here, where each iteration of the 21st century-encompassing discography has its own proponents, there is a tangible static of anticipation among the Hydro-filling crowd, that their song has made the cut.

Despite the by-numbers band staging, the performance feels entirely bespoke. In keeping with the current tour’s mode of song dedications, an ode to late Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison accompanies Mistaken for Strangers. There are moments of significance, like this, where the invisible wall between performer and audience is broken, both emotionally and – in Berninger’s case – physically.

Throughout, concert techs intermittently spring to stage, ensuring that the audio cable for Berninger’s microphone is compromise-free, feeding lengths of it to him – akin to a leashed animal – so he can suspend over the stage edge on square podiums, or descend a lit staircase to reach over the barrier into the crowd. During 2013’s Graceless, however, the singular and unpredictable frontman, opts to foray – around the far side of the barrier – into the crowd, a visible riptide of bodies making its way to the left of the stage to be nearer to him in that swell of admiration between artist and fan that’s biblical in appearance. This ‘dramatic lead singer’ paradigm peaks as he makes his way to the far-left exit, throng in-tow, wilting against the doorframe, as if Berninger needed only a rose in hand to reach Smiths-era Morrissey fervour.

These highs are bolstered by a career-spanning set selection, from 2003’s Murder Me Rachael, through Smoke Detector, an inclusion from this year’s surprise second studio release Laugh Track. It’s a dizzying crescendo of danceable indie brilliance that opens a euphoric closing section of the set. Band staples England and Fake Empire follow, hymnally sung back to the stage by an audience now at fever pitch, the accompaniment of live trumpet and trombone signalling victory. About Today closes the initial set, a devastatingly beautiful and bittersweet false coda, and an example of several songs that utilise earned silence from the audience so deftly that there’s a requirement for a sharp intake of breath, as the cavernous arena becomes deathly quiet.

The five-song encore is utterly rousing, as Terrible Love creates waves in the audience, visibly coming to life; the usually more clinical Hydro setting giving way to the satiated yearning of a festival field. As the show concludes, it's evident that The National are a vital example of the touring machine, where they take their place among the vanguard of successful touring veteran bands.