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The National showed us a glimpse of the future on Southbank last night

19 April 2019, 12:54 | Written by Sean Kerwick

The National possess a special kind of fanbase, and half-hearted fans of the band are certainly hard to come by.

It’s not often that a group with such a beloved back-catalogue can play a set pretty much wholly comprised of new songs and get away with it. But tonight’s show, A Special Evening with The National, bestows a thrilling glimpse of their next phase on their most devoted fans.

Before The National take to the stage, the audience are shown the accompanying film to their forthcoming album. Also entitled I Am Easy To Find, the 25-minute feature captures the entire lifespan of its female protagonist (played by Alicia Vikander) who is physically fixed at a young age whilst the world and relationships around her age and change for better or worse. A short Q&A with director Mike Mills, Matt Berninger and Bryce Dessner revealed that the film directly impacted the realisation of the album. With full access to the recorded stems of the songs, Mills formed an ethereal collage to soundtrack the film which spurred rewriting sessions for the band.

After a short interval, the core members of the group emerge with a string section, extra percussionists and a trio of female vocalists to perform 13 of the 16 tracks that appear on their forthcoming eighth LP. The new songs are presented loosely in the order they appear on record against a backdrop which seems to borrow a little inspiration from The 1975’s live production; bright colours and minimalist box shapes morph to fit the atmosphere of the songs.

Opener “You Had Your Soul With You” finds the group on rarely charted major-key territory which is illustrated with spiralling runs of glitching synths and rich strings. Later, “Oblivions” explores a relationship on the brink of chaos against a rhythm section which pantomimes the dull thump of a heavy heart. “It’s plural,” Berninger explains of the song’s title, “in case you go through more than one”.

The presence of female vocals across the new songs provide a beautiful contrast to Berninger’s booming baritone. They draw an angelic line under the chorus of set highlight “Hey Rosey” penned by Berninger’s wife Carin Besser, and they guide “Where Is Her Head” into a euphoric conclusion. Later, they soothe the frontman’s crazed verses in stunning three-part harmony on “Not In Kansas”.

Whilst the audience watch the majority of the new songs in ear-pricked silence, it’s “Rylan” which causes pockets of people to soar to their feet. The song has been floating in the orbit of The National’s fanbase for the best part of a decade, but without an official recorded version it’s developed a mystical quality. On I Am Easy To Find, it’s finally been immortalised. With its military-style drum pattern and mournful piano, it’s welcomed like an old friend. Berninger locates the fan who brought up the song in the Q&A and steps out into the stalls to sing it alongside them.

The National run through some old favourites before they bid farewell starting with the anthemic “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” which unites the entire auditorium on their feet. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, “I Need My Girl” and closer “Fake Empire” rejoices the audience in an atmosphere of pure euphoria before the curtains draw. Whilst these old favourites remind the crowd of why they fell in love with the group in the first place, the exciting and intriguing qualities of new material aired tonight remind us why The National are a band to believe in.


You Had Your Soul With You

Quiet Light

Roman Holiday

The Pull of You

Hey Rosey

I Am Easy to Find

Where Is Her Head

So Far, So Fast

Hairpin Turns

Light Years


Not in Kansas

The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

Bloodbuzz Ohio

I Need My Girl

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