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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

The National: Baby, We’ll Be Fine

Live Review: The National at Royal Festival Hall, London, 10th August 2009

Written by Roisin Conway

Watching their electric performance at The Garage, information pills I immediately understood why all the major music publications are getting their knickers in a twist over The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. With the recent release of their debut album, more about The Pains have quickly amassed a devoted fan base and garnered raptuous reviews for their perfectly pitched shoe gazing dream pop. If I hadn’t met them, I might have assumed that they were the sort of band who believed their own hype – and why wouldn’t they? Having sat down with Kip and Peggy earlier in the day I instantly realised that while they weren’t oblivious to the attention, they were unfettered by it. Letting the press get on with their excitable reactions, the band just want to play the music that they love.

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The new album has practically been lauded as the second coming by heavy weights like The NY Times and NME, did you expect such an immediate and positive reaction?

Peggy – Definitely not, I just think about the bands that play music like us that we have always admired, and most of them were were not that comercially well known, and not always that critically received either, so playing the kind of music we play… we didn’t have our hopes up high. But we were really happy with the record though, we really enjoyed making it, but we had no sense that anything beyond us being happy would happen. I always liked bands that I discovered on my own, I wouldn’t hear them on commercial radio or MTV.

Kip- There are a couple of bands that reached a bigger audience like Sonic Youth or Nirvana, but most of the indie pop bands of the 90′s were limited to a narrow community.

So you were expecting that the album would spread by word of mouth, and instead you were plunged straight into a media frenzy. Were you ready for this?

Peggy- It wasn’t the goal of the band. You know, “everyone is going to love us!” We were just friends that started playing music and this is the kind of music that we like and have bonded over. I think if we had set out to get commercial success we wouldn’t sound the way that we do.

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Kip- Where we come from, our backrounds in music, there is not really a strong tradition of bands expecting good things to happen. Perhaps American bands are more self depricating (laugh) but there is this built in expectation that if you do something that you love, it might not be well received by others, but you’ll be happy because you will be proud of it.

Peggy – And you’re happy with the five people that appreciated it! (laughs) I feel like I was that person that would always appreciate a certain band and I would have been totally satisfied with that kind of response for us.

Kip- Growing up, most of the bands that I liked, I didn’t know anyone else who liked them.

Did that give it a special resonance – liking a band, and knowing that no-one else knows them?

Peggy – I wouldn’t admit that…… but I secretly enjoy it!

Kip – I would have liked to have known other people who were into the same bands as me growing up. I felt quite isolated that way; I would sit at home playing computer solitaire, listening to an album over and over again, but it’s cool now that we are travelling more and meeting people who had similar backrounds.

What is the Pains’ backround?

Peggy – I’ve been in bands since I was 13, but none of them that ever went on tour. This is the first band where I’ve got to travel.

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Kip – I was in a similar situation, but none of them had graduated above playing in a basement. So this is very different from anything I’ve ever been in – one band that I was in, our goal was to play at this house we knew that had really cool house parties! (laughs)

Can you account for the reasons why the Pains have become so successful?

Kip – We started small, we were playing together for a while before anything happened, it’s easy to lose sight of that because once the album came out things changed a bit, but we were around for a couple of years and met with plenty of challenges, so it doesn’t feel to us like it is an overnight thing, but it may seem that way from an outsiders perspective. I’m grateful for the way that it turned out because it allowed us to mess up for a bit without other people watching! (laughs) We had a relatively decent period of obscurity while we refined what we do….. and also, the reason is luck!

Peggy – And being in the right place at the right time.

Peggy, Is it true that the band formed in part to play at your birthday party?

Peggy – Yes! I remember it was my birthday and I had only invited like, four people; because I only have four friends! (laughs).

Kip – It was at this big warehouse and it was basically an elaborate plot to try and get Manhattan Love Suicides to play, and so if we threw the party, we could play first and then we could say that we played with them. So we had a month to get ready.

It sounds like it was a natural way in which the band came together….

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Kip- It was the best way. If the last seven months have taught us anything; we are always together, and if there were people that didn’t get along, it would be hellish, but we were friends for a long time before we picked up an instrument. This made the whole experience fun and much less stressful then for bands who get formed by putting ads in a paper saying ‘drummer needed’.

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Peggy – The fact that we are friends and the fact that we have stayed friends is almost more lucky than anything else.

So there haven’t been any falling outs on tour then?

Peggy (emphatically) No!

Kip – This is our first experience of doing this, we don’t have a glut of expectations, we’re just appreciative of the opportunity and are excited by it all; and when you are excited and enjoying it, it’s hard to get upset about things.

Peggy – Touring can be really hard and gruelling, and I feel like if it were with any other people it would really suck, but it ends up being fun anyway.

What have been some highlights for you in the last few months?

Peggy – Playing Primavera was really amazing, that was the first big festival we ever played, and I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I don’t like crowds (laughs) so I thought, today might be weird or awkward, but it ended up being really life affirming and it was the biggest adrenalin rush ever.

Kip- ABC news showed up at our practice place to hear us play. The fellow who does the news is on TV saying (in deep, authoratative voice), “And now, a report from Brooklyn” (laughs), and him saying our band name on televsion… I sent that to my grandparents, I think that this was the moment where my family realised that even though they didn’t quite understand what was going on with us, we were doing something worthwhile.

Which country has had the best crowds at your gigs? Apart from Britain obviously!

Kip – Obviously!

Peggy – I thought Germany was really positive, we played three shows in Germany and they were really enthusiastic.

Kip – Sweden was pretty amazing, that country has a strong tradition of appreciating bands like ours and even though Swedes are normally really reserved, the enthusiasm we saw there predated even us having a record out – we had released our EP and if we had played in New York, maybe 40 people would have come, and we would know 37 of them, and then we went to Sweden and all of a sudden we were playing really big shows and I had no idea that a band like ours could find an audience like that. But most of the places that we have travelled to have been positive experiences.

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You’ve got some more touring to do, and then what do you have planned?

Kip- We have an EP coming out this fall, we recorded four songs before we went to Europe in May, and after the tour we are going back to practicing and working on the new record. But every step of the process is exciting and I try not to think too far into the future, because then you miss out on what is happening in the present.

After this I get Kip and Peggy to take part in my game of Lucky Dip, which involves picking questions out of the bag (my handbag, actually) Peggy picks the “What is the first record that you ever brought?” and proudly tells me that it was Madonna’s “Like A Prayer”, and then with less confidence, quietly adds that a purchase of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” was also made. “I was really into female performers at the time!” she cried. Kip gets the “What is on your rider?” question, and true to form, the down to earth bands requests are not unicorns, dwarfs and mounds of Class A’s, but bread, hummus, water and beer. ” We just need to make sure that we get fed around 5pm or we get a bit grumpy” Kip ventures, although I don’t think any explanation is needed when the sum contents of your rider can be placed in a Tesco’s 5 items or less basket.

“The Pains of Being Pure At Heart” is out now.
Monday 10th August

UN Climate Change Talks

The U.N. Climate Change Talks in Bonn, recipe Germany begin a series of informal intersessional consultations today. These are part of the run-up to Copenhagen in December, search and this particular series can be found webcast live here

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Illustration by Sergio Membrillas

Tuesday 11th August

The Yes Men

The Yes Men film shows the hoaxes perpetrated by two US political pranksters. The promotion team describe the film as “so stupidly entertaining” that it will reach and motivate thousands of people, this thus “adding even more juice into a movement that is trying to save civilization itself, among other modest goals.

Tuesday is the satellite event – live from Sheffield, it’s a simulcast event screening of THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD and live q&a with the Yes Men beamed via satellites from Sheffield Showroom. Cinema-goers will have the opportunity to put their questions live and direct to the film’s stars from their respective cinema locations.

20.30, at the following London cinemas:
Odeon Panton Street, Clapham Picture House, The Gate Notting Hill, Greenwich Cinema, Ritzy Brixton, Screen-on-the-Green
More cinemas on the screenings page of their website.

Wednesday 12th August

Green Spaces & Sticky Feet

A creative exploration of the nature beneath our feet as we roam around the gardens – to help us understand why green spaces are important and how we can make our buildings greener. This is a workshop for children of all ages, who must be accompanied at all times by an adult.

2.30-4.30pm
St John-at-Hackney Churchyard Gardens

Contact – The Building Exploratory – 020 7729 2011 – mail@buildingexploratory.org.uk
www.buildingexploratory.org.uk

VESTAS : National Day of Action

On Friday the 7th August the bailiffs went in and the occupation of the Vestas wind turbine plant on the Isle of Wight ended.

In response to this a National Day of Action in support of the Vestas workers and to keep the factory open, for Green Jobs and a Green Energy Revolution, was declared. There will be actions all around the country organised by a diverse range of groups.

Or contact your local CCC group, or Union – or if you want to organise something in your area there is some advice from Jonathan Neale, of the CCC Trade Union group

The campaign to Save Vestas has not finished, it has just started and with it comes a campaign for a step change in the creation of Green Jobs and the Green Energy Revolution !

6.30pm
Outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)

Contact – info@campaigncc.org – savevestas.wordpress.com

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Illustration by Jeffrey Bowman

Thursday 13th August

Journey Deep Into the Heart of Remembrance

A spiritual celebration and experience, honouring our regal beauty with sacred song and dance. Dances of universal peace, Taize singing, Bhajans & Kirtan, native American sweat lodge, Zikr & Sufi practice, Breton dancing, Tibetan sound meditation, yoga, tribal dance, ancient ways of the British Isles, chant wave and more…

You can find more details www.hounslow.info

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Illustration by Faye Katirai

Saturday 15th August

Fly by Night at Totteridge Fields Nature Reserve

Let the London Wildlife Trust take you out trapping, identifying and recording moths on the Totteridge Fields Nature Reserve. Come and see how many species of moths visit the fields at night. Please wear warm clothes and sensible footwear. Bring a Torch, Notebook and pen. You may also want to bring a flask.

Free car parking in sports ground car park adjacent to the Hendon Wood Lane entrance.
Nearest tube is Totteridge & Whetstone
251 bus stops on Totteridge Common near the junction with Hendon Wood Lane.

8.30-10.30pm
Hendon wood Lane entrance to totteridge Fields Nature Reserve
Contact – Clive Cohen – 07973 825 165 – notinbooks.conservation@btinternet.com

Monday 10th August
The National at Southbank Centre, order London

The National are one of my favourite all time bands. Their music full of deep seductive murmuring and soaring strings, The National build a beautiful soundscape full of urban discontent and lost loves.

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Tuesday 11th August
Devotchka at Cargo, London

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that Devotchka have wandered straight out an Eastern European shtetl with their romani/ klezmer-tastic music. In fact they’re from Colorado and you probably recognise their orchestral treats from Everything is Illuminated and Little Miss Sunshine.

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Wednesday 12th August
Woodpigeon at Borderline, London

Woodpigeon is whispery folk with beautiful strings and brass. Perfect for a summer evening.

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Thursday 13th August
Circulus at The Lexington, London

Tired of the ins and outs of modern life? Do you want to return to a simpler time? A medieval time? Go see Circulus then! They’re quite obviously as mad as a bag of prog listening cats but they sing about fairies and have lutes- what couldn’t be awesome about that?

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Friday 14th August
Forest Fire and Broadcast 2000 at The Luminaire, London

Lovely country folk from Brooklyn’s Forest Fire and tinkly electronica from Broadcast 2000 are set to make this night special!

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Saturday 15th August
Spaghetti Anywhere and Colours at Barfly, London

Here at Amelia’s HQ we often find ourselves listening to Spaghetti Anywhere‘s myspace selection of pretty indie pop, and it never fails to brighten up a dreary office day.
Also playing are Colours the South Coast’s answer to My Bloody Valentine, offering up a delicious slice of Shoegaze with Pavement-y undertones. Brilliant stuff all round!

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William Cobbing: Thoughts From the Bottom of a Well

Gymnasium Art Gallery
Berwick Barracks
The Parade
Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 1DG

Until 13th September
Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm
Free

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Sculpture, ampoule video and installation from London based artist William Cobbing, drawing on inspiration from Andrei Tarkovsky and Robert Smithson.

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Jake and Dinos Chapman: My Giant Colouring Book

Winchester Discovery Centre
Jewry Street
Winchester SO23 8RX

Until 6th September
Monday to Friday 9am – 7pm
Saturday 9am – 5pm
Sunday 10am – 4pm
Free

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Controversial siblings Jake and Dinos Chapman strike again, with this Hayward Gallery exhibition on tour around the country, based on children’s dot-to-dot drawings but a whole lot more dark, chaotic and macabre.

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The 2009 Vice Magazine Photography Exhibition

The Printspace
74 Kingsland Road
Shoreditch
London E2 8DL

13th August – 26th August
Monday – Friday 9am – 7pm

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Artists include: Richard Kern, Maggie Lee, Peter Sutherland, Dana Goldstein, Tim Barber, Martynka Wawrzyniak, Angela Boatwright, Jamie Taete, Alex Sturrock, Jonnie Craig, Ben Rayner.

Exhibit X is pleased to announce an exhibition examining the blurred vision between photojournalism and raw photography, using images from Vice magazine and it’s photographers.’

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Stitching Time

The Town Hall Galleries
Cornhill
Ipswich IP1 1DH

15th August 26th September
Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Free

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‘Stitching Time is a partnership project with Suffolk Artlink’s Culture Club and Colchester and Ipswich Museums. Older members of the community used a variety of sewing methods to create work in response to the collections.’

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The Kiss of a Lifetime (Part 2)

Vane
Kings House
Forth Banks
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 3PA

Until 22nd August
Wednesday – Saturday 12-5pm
Free

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‘Our second presentation as part of the Northern Print Biennale, ‘The Kiss of a Lifetime (Part 2)’ is curated by Manchester-based artist and curator, Mike Chavez-Dawson. The exhibition features the work of over 100 artists, both internationally renowned and emerging, from the UK and abroad and examines what ‘the kiss’ signifies within contemporary culture – from the romantic to the lifesaving, from the prosaic to the violent.’

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Scottie Wilson

Pallant House Gallery
9 North Pallant
Chichester PO19 1TJ

Until11th October
Tuesday – Saturday 10am-5pm
Thursday 10am – 8pm
Sundays/ Bank Holidays 12.30 – 5pm
Free

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‘An exhibition featuring the highly distinctive drawings of the Scottish outsider artist Scottie Wilson (1891-1972). Starting his artistic career at the age of 44, his work was admired and collected by the likes of Jean Dubuffet and Pablo Picasso and he is considered to be one of the most celebrated outsider artists of the twentieth century.’

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Last week I attended the preview screening of The Yes Men Fix The World at the Odeon Panton in London’s West End. Narrated by Andy and Mike, story the self-styled Yes Men, it followed their highly creative protests against corporations and governments guilty of humanitarian and environmental misdemeanours. It’s a laugh-out-loud romp across the continents that you absolutely must see if you’ve ever dreamed of changing the world, but being an indie film unencumbered by distribution or advertising budgets you only get a couple of days to view it.

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You can read more about the exploits of the Yes Men in Cari’s excellent preview blog here and find details of where to see it here.

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In the meantime, if you live in London you might be more familiar with the Yes Men from their front page appearance in the Evening Standard yesterday, photographed in a joint stunt with Climate Rush to highlight the hypocrisy of Mandelson’s leadership as he takes over from the prime minister whilst Brown goes on holiday. Not only is Mandelson a non-elected politician (democracy?! is this really what it looks like?!) but he is also completely corrupt: Leila Deen from Plane Stupid threw custard over Mandelson in February in order to draw attention to his part in hob-nobbing with BAA execs and then lobbying for the third runway at Heathrow. He is well known for pushing the demands of big business over concerns about Climate Change.

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It was indeed a slightly surreal sight to see the unmistakable inflatable shapes of the Yes Men in their Halliburton SurvivaBalls – patented ways of escaping the worst effects of Climate Change if you’ve got enough cash – blocking the entrance to Mandelson’s residence in Regent’s Park together with two girls dressed daintily as suffragettes. Surrounded by mini windmills in plant pots they held aloft a banner which read Mandy Put The Wind In Vestas’ Sales, a timely message as the rooftop protest continues at the Vestas factory in Cowes.

And yet, the Yes Men were not content with a fiendishly early start to pull off the prank with Climate Rush, and were also determined to pay Richard Branson a visit yesterday atfternoon. Why? you might ask…

In a spoof film released onto YouTube yesterday Branson is seen posing astride The World, the huge fake island development constructed in the shape of, yes you guessed it, the world, in Dubai. He’s wearing an amazingly garish Union Jack suit as he cuddles up to some generic pretty girls in red sashes not unlike those favoured by Climate Rush (the sashes, that is.) As Branson states that “we’re just popping people into space and popping them straight back down again,” SurvivaBalls tumble across the screen.

This week it was announced that an Arab investment company has invested in Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture, which plans to take rich people into space on short jaunts to gawp at the wonder of our little planet. The specialist travel company Kuoni are quoted in The Independent as saying that “there will always be super-explorers with the financial ability… to marvel at the Earth from afar. If this is someone’s interest and desire, you can’t put a price on it.” The cost of these trips to the super-rich? A mere $200,000 for two hours. Already 85,000 have registered an interest, with a proportion paying up front. The cost to the earth? Well, Branson is master of greenwash, and he’d have you believe that this vanity project of his will be as eco-friendly as they come. Now I wonder how anyone can imagine that flying into space can come without a cost to the environment? But it seems that if you fuel your jets with biofuel all will be well.

Ah, biofuels, the biggest lie of them all and the subject of the July Climate Rush, where we blocked the street outside an agri-investment conference in Grovesnor Square in order to draw attention to the devastating effects of the rise in the use of palm oil across the globe.

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Not only do the monoculture plantations of this “wonder” oil cause massive tropical deforestation and an attendant rise in CO2 emissions, but they result in a 90% loss in wildlife diversity. Did you know that we have lost 90% of the orangutans in the past 100 years?

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In many parts of the world biofuels such as jatropha are grown on “marginal wasteland” which isn’t actually marginal at all – it’s common land that provides a living for the people who live nearby. Food Not Fuel, seen below at the Palm Oil Climate Rush, campaign on issues around the increasing use of land to create biofuel for cars, planes and soon apparently, space rockets. All this instead of using land to encourage biodiversity and feed the planet.

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How can a man who backs the creation of large scale monocultures to fly rich people into space purport to have any interest in the environment at all? Branson helped to found The Elders, a group of influential rich people who think they can save the world. “Could a small, dedicated group of independent elders help to resolve global problems and ease human suffering?” asks their website. Brilliant! How about space travel for the rich? That ought to do it.

And so, with this in mind, I met Andy, Mike and an assorted gaggle of helpers outside Green Park tube station, not far from where Richard Branson has set up his Galatic shop on an unassuming terraced street (albeit a posh one of course). We’d just bought the Evening Standard and the Yes Men were fairly incredulous with their front page status until I pointed out that if you team up with Climate Rush on an auspicious date that’s the kind of coverage you can expect to get.

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Across the road in Green Park out came the SurvivaBall suits and we watched with amusement as Mike and Andy climbed inside, and cunningly inflated themselves through the use of two fans mounted on helmets, before we all tripped across the road, moving slowly to accommodate a ripped SurvivaBall and a broken fan poking professionally out of the top of Mike’s head. Squeezing up the narrow steps the Yes Men pushed the buzzer to gain entrance to the Galactic offices.

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Alas the Yes Men didn’t get in (not unsurprisingly given their attire) and they seemed content to instead plant themselves on the doorstep and chant “Branson’s Stooopid”, which of course sounds much better in an American accent. Alex in the third SurvivaBall looked more like an overripe pumpkin than a bastion of “survival technology” but the beauty of the SurvivaBalls is that they look so utterly ridiculous.

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“How dumb is space travel for the rich?” chanted the Yes Men, faces squooshed into awkward angles. “This dumb!” they exclaimed before continuing, “What do we want? Space travel for the rich. When do we want it? Never!”

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Despite stating through the intercom that they would stay on the stoop until Branson “stops his ‘green’ hypocrisy and Virgin stops flying planes”, the uncomfortable suits were soon shaken off and the action completed. It may not have garnered the press attention of their early morning stunt, but it was filmed by their entourage, and will surely set the scene for many a further protest. Spaceships and astronauts call to mind the possibility of so many creative actions… The cogs in my mind are already turning. Are yours?

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Do you have a band that soundtrack your life? The music of your memories?
Mine was, pharmacy is and always will be The National, healing a band who’ve been playing in the background of my first loves, lost loves, sad times, happy times, party times, sleep times, journeys on planes, journeys on trains, moving in-s and moving out-s.

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Last night, after almost 5 years of unadulterated adoration and no less than 3 missed opportunities to see them , I finally saw The National, and it was knee-knockingly, breathtakingly amazing.
So amazing in fact, I broke a few of my cardinal “What Not To Do At Gigs” Rules. Nominally, these are:
1. Thou shall not sing along (aloud or mouthing along silently; they’re both as bad as each other)
2. Thou shall not join in group clapping (I’m not really a crowd participation kind of girl)
3. Thou shall not sway with your eyes closed (it looks creepy)

Having left the Royal Festival Hall in between lamenting the loss of my gig misanthropy and watching A Skin, A Night in bed (I really like The National- if you hadn’t noticed by this point) I began to ponder how to write about a band you’ve loved for such a long time, so here it goes.

(A Skin, A Night trailer)

Playing songs from their last two albums (Alligator and Boxer) and an EP (Cherry Tree), as well as covering new songs like the excellent ‘Runaway’, I noticed that one of the most striking thing about The National was their ability to depart from their records, which are, even at their most upbeat are still darkly contemplative and reflective, live however their energy is palpable, their most melancholic songs live are shot through with electricity and flourish. The National are a lot more prolific than the 2007 ‘overnight’ success of Boxer would suggest, and their familiarity with their extensive back catalogue allows them to embellish upon their records, making the live show full of exciting little twists and turns.

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Somewhere amidst these sonic twists and turns, I recognised The National’s ability to change the mood of not only what they were playing but also the mood of a packed out auditorium of people. Their music soars and swoops, murmurs with melancholy, heard in both Berringer’s voice and Newsome’s string solos, before crescendo-ing into a clattering wave of emotional intensity on the drums, guitars and brass. ‘Fake Empire’ ; Boxer’s opener starts with a simple, lilting piano melody and builds up to a full orchestral smorgasbord and was definitely a stand out favourite for me alongside ‘About Today’ from the aforementioned Cherry Tree EP whilst faster songs including ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ and ‘All the Wine’ pulsated with a dark emotion. The National are undoubtedly a honed and well oiled team from the drums and brass section to Padma Newsome’s dexterity on the piano and strings and it is this that enabled them to take such hairpin turns throughout their hour and a half long set, whilst retaining the interest of a legion of loyal fans, which is no mean feat.

And what of Mr. Berringer as a front man? I always had a rather specific image of him as a shy and brooding wordsmith, yet he commanded the attention of the crowd with his vocal range; from his trademark seductive baritone murmuring (‘Green Gloves’), to top-of-lungs anguished shouting (‘Abel’).

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The National create a totally unique soundscape, both live and on record, a soundscape filled with towering skyscrapers and empty parties, of drunk men in dead end jobs and the women they once loved leaving them. Ok, so it ‘s clearly not the Disneyworld of soundscapes but there is a real honesty and sad beauty to the images they create that inspire empathy and awe (both lyrically and melodically) in the stoniest of hearts.

So now as one of the converted to eyes closed, body swaying dancing at gigs, I unabashedly say that The National didn’t let me down live and I will continue to soundtrack a new lot of adventures with their music. Make them yours!

(Video for ‘Apartment Story’)

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