If High Violet is the album that solidified The National’s critical success, then Trouble Will Find Me is the album that pushed them into the mainstream – garnering commercial success whilst retaining long-standing fans. And although it is often referred to as a divisive record, the crowd gathered for a second sold-out night at London Alexandra Palace speak volumes.
An opening benefitting of tonight’s stadium level proportions, a mass LED lit backdrop flashes with increasing intensity until the Cincinnati five-piece emerge, launching straight into recent single and album stand-out “Don’t Swallow The Cap.” Matt Berninger’s voice is as deep and brooding as ever, the song’s rich tones filling the vast expanse in front of the stage. As the set progresses, his rich tones are replaced with a vitriolic howl, harrowing and crackling into the microphone in a demonic manner – almost as if he’s intent on counteracting the commercial step up with an unheard rawness, prowling the stage, his ragged on-the-road voice laid bare.
Highlights come thick and fast in the form of an understated “I Should Live in Salt”, the cinematic swells of “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and an incredible power of “Squalor Victoria.” Unexpected treats follow in Alligator‘s “Abel” and Boxer‘s “Slow Show” and Cherry Tree‘s “All The Wine” while “Humiliation” and “Pink Rabbits” witness a tightly wound band begin to unravel in the most perfectly controlled way. “England”, “Graceless” and “Fake Empire” bring the main portion of the set to a close.
A rapturous encore featuring rendition of “Mr. November” whips the crowd into a frenzy, its chorus delivered with barbed wire vocals.”Terrible Love” receives the same treatments, growing from the slow burning anthem it is on record toward a frenetic, almost crazed climax. No longer singing, a screaming Berninger launching into the crowd and disappears into its embracing arms. Returning to the stage, his lungs heaving, Berninger thanks everyone for being here, “especially those who protected my testicles during that last song.”
A typically emotionally wrought “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geek” follows, acoustic guitar strings somehow commanding the thousands gathered with the lightest of touches. Every single person is sucked in, from the bar leaning revellers at the back to the devoted teary-eyed fans at the front, all forgetting the setting for a moment and becoming lost in their own intimate experience of the song, to the point where Berninger is barely heard above their own cries.
No longer the outsiders they once were, tonight was never quite going to match up to earlier live performances, but with an unmatched vigour and magnetism we’re glad they’re on the inside now, looking out with all their wit, instinct and vision intact.