Music review: The National, The Roundhouse, London


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The Independent Culture

"I’m going through an awkward stage," Matt Berninger pleads on standout new track “Demons”, in that battered, beautiful baritone voice of his.

The frontman doesn’t look awkward. In fact, he, like his Brooklyn-based band, appear confidently on top of their game. After a decade of being the best-kept secret in music, the quintet, composed of Berninger and two sets of brothers, are garnering front covers, mainstream esteem and attracting the likes of Clive Owen in the audience.

It’s about time and their latest masterpiece, Trouble Will Find Me, is given a generous airing tonight with nine tracks. It means no room for the gorgeous “Runaway” (which graced recent zombie movie Warm Bodies) from 2010’s High Violet or the exquisitely twisted “Karen” from 2005's Alligator. They never seem to play it. Too raw?

The 42-year-old singer is a cerebral, literary lyricist (he has the sensibilities of a novelist) who grips the crowd (they barely move and hardly a soul makes a dart for the bar) with his deeply personal lyrics. The supremely anxious "Afraid of Everyone", a track for misfits and the damaged, leaves the crowd rapt, rooted to the spot.

It’s music to squeeze your eyes shut, waft airily around like a Terrence Malick heroine and occasionally thrust out a wild salute to. Anthemic, deranged and, oddly uplifting. They start off with the accusational (there’s a fair deal of teenage angst about The National) new track “I Should Live in Salt” (“Don’t make me read your mind/ You should know me better than that”) and the mordant “Don’t Swallow the Cap” (“I have only two emotions/ Careful fear and dead devotion”). The sweeping, cinematic tracks are followed up by the perfectly lovely "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and “Secret Meeting”.

Does Berninger leap into the audience tonight, clutching a bottle of red plonk. Of course he does. The serial stage diver flings himself into the faithful during the heady "Mr November", his favourite song for leaping.

They finish with a five-song encore that includes the distorted loveliness of “Terrible Love” with those agonised, spine-tingling yelps of “It takes an ocean not to break”. It’s a heartbreak song redolent of The Psychedelic Furs, plus a swathe of British indie-rock bands – The Blue Nile, Echo and the Bunnymen and, particularly, Tindersticks. They're Anglophiles, essentially.

Their final song, "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, is performed unamplified and while the crowd take over singing duties, Berninger accidentally stumbles as they chant "I'll explain everything to the geeks". Tonight's only awkward moment. Sensational.