Ohio quintet The National are becoming real indie rock poster boys, no surprise given they’d rather graft their way to playing sell-out nights at Brixton Academy by making sombre, mature rock, than have success handed to them by print media hype or TV appearances. Their most recent album, High Violet, reached the giddy heights of the top five in the UK and US. On the evidence of tonight, they have more than enough in their live shows to back up their hard earned commercial pedigree.

Early support Menomena are honoured by a decent sized crowd for an 8pm start. The multi-instrumentalists give the impression of being an all-singing, all-dancing troupe with all four members sharing vocal duties. Their music jumps between genres from one song to the next and often within the same song, from slow swaggering alternative rock to ambient electronica to spontaneous moments of jazz. The harmonies offered by Menomena seem the perfect accompaniment to hiding from the snow and the cancelled tube home.

Accompanied by an increasingly popular visual backdrop, The National slowly build up the energy in the room and refuse to give way too soon, deploying slow songs like ‘Runaway’ and ‘Slow Show’ early in the set. With the crowd’s enthusiasm undimmed, fuelled by the knowledge that there are many climactic anthems to come, the first burst of vigour comes courtesy of ‘Squalor Victoria’. Matt Berninger’s stage style is half Ian Curtis and half a ranting orator, soon he is bursting into howls of great anguish, adding to his usual dry baritone. Bolstered by a two-man brass section, The National subsequently storm through ‘Afraid of Everyone’, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and ‘Conversation 16’.

Despite the often bleak and lovelorn nature of their lyrics, The National maintain a jovial stance with their between song banter, but this seems to be akin to the comic scenes in Shakespeare’s tragedies – soon one’s emotions are taken to a place similar to the imagery on the backdrop screen: blurry city lights, autumn leaves on the ground, underwater bubbles. The audience is drawn song by song into that ideal moment of the gig-going experience; a feeling that one is tapping into a personal place and also sharing the moment with many others. Whereas sound levels were rather too distorted and loud at the start, as the show goes on the decibels drop, the clarity improves, and heartstrings are pulled. The mission statement of ‘Sorrow’ is followed by an especially tender version of ‘Green Gloves’, before the band exits to an ode to their current location (‘England’) and their home country (‘Fake Empire’).

Arguably the best is saved for the encore. Live favourite ‘Mr November’ sees Berninger do his customary venture deep into the depths of the audience, a humble act hardly seen in 5000 capacity venues. Current single ‘Terrible Love’ has Sufjan Stevens provide extra vocals with classical composer Nico Muhly on keys. It serves only as prelude to a special moment of rare connection and intimacy in a concert hall of Brixton Academy’s size – a totally unamplified version of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’. So drawn in is the audience that any inebriated talking or laughter is shouted down as those who know the words sing along, those who don’t listen with intent. By the end, eyes are moist from the most genuine moment in a night of many. Shows like this don’t happen that often.

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