Brooklyn quintet the National played the third of three dates at Dublin's Olympia last Saturday. Aside from a set in Dingle for Other Voices (that should be a treat when it hits the air!), the show was the last of a long tour until December 30th when they begin leg two in Australia and New Zealand.
Support came from New Yorkers Phospherescent. Typically the solo project of Matthew Houck, he is joined on stage by four others providing guitars, keyboards and drums.
I was largely unfamiliar with Houck's work and, following the performance, can confirm that this will remain the case!! Uninspired - the sound was that of a watered down Band of Horses or J. Tilman. The highlight was a cover of Radiohead's 'House of Cards' and even then - the track was lacking the life that made it such a strong contender on In Rainbows!
In stark contrast, Berninger and co. were in scintillating form, joined on stage for a handful of tracks by regular contributor and Arcade Fire member Richard Reed Parry, the Canadian offering backing vocals and extra guitar and tambourine to tracks from High Violet.
Playing a set not completely dissimilar to that of the Electric Picnic performance (with a handful of added oldies), the band themselves were in a jubilant, jokey mood. It seemed to me that the brothers Dessner were a little jaded on the back of the three night spell at the Olympia and were less up for Matt Berninger's antics than normal, though they did not miss so much as a note.
Berninger has become the star of the show. A band initially driven by the brooding guitars and rhythm section of the Dessners and Davendorffs has morphed into an Automatic for the People era REM.
Confidence is oozing from the performance as the lead singer laps up the adoring attention of the crowd, engaging in banter with the audience, his bandmates and even backing crew members ("This is Adonis! He catches me when I fall down there!")
A near flawless set from the band, they moved intricately in and out of High Violet, Alligator and Boxer, dipping just once into Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers - the performance had a real dark energy about it. The strings and trumpets littered rays of hope across a brooding and bold showing.
The ending left the majority of the crowd in sheer bliss. Matt, having completed a re-routed crowd walk (he came into the crowd on the left of the stage, around the back of the pit of the Olympia, into the middle of the crowd and climbed aloft their shoulders to serenade the balcony above before returning to the stage through the middle of the crowd...), invited all members of the band, crew and support on stage for an impromptu, intimate, acoustic rendition of 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.'
The band stood at the very front of the stage, Matt singing sans-microphone, as the crowd belted out every note - a really special moment for all in the arena, both in the audience and on stage.