The National, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Fans of indie-rock band The National, evangelical though they may be about the band, like to think of themselves as part of a secret club. After all, the band spent years playing to cult crowds. Perhaps it will be surprising to them above all others to hear tonight's show from the Brooklyn band sold out in just three minutes.

The band have been boosting their profile – guitar-playing twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner released the 32-song compilation Dark Was The Night featuring the stars of the indie scene including Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Grizzly Bear. Tonight's show draws mainly from the band's previous two albums Alligator and the 2007-released Boxer, while a clutch of new songs hints at the album they've been working on, due out in Spring.

It doesn't take the band long to transcend the barrier between the seated audience and the stage – a few songs in and the crowd are up and crowding the edge of the stage.

Themes of awkwardness, loss and hopeless romanticism are embodied by their lanky singer Matt Berninger, arms flailing with pent up nervous energy. Berninger's melancholic lyrics fit somewhere between the arch romantic poetry of Leonard Cohen and the booze-soaked writings of Charles Bukowski. Berninger himself is booze-soaked, a full wine glass in hand for most of the night. While Berninger gets visibly tipsy, he to embodies the themes of his music, crouching to sing and leaning over to shout wildly into the crowd. "All The Wine" with lyrics of awkwardness and alcoholic reverie "I'm a festival, I'm a parade" stand out.

And the band are as tight as ever. In "Mr November" Berninger leaves the stage and saunters up the central aisle singing. The band continue, the Dessner brothers strumming frenetically. Each musician on stage, which tonight includes a violinist and a trombone and trumpet duo adding Sufjan Stevens flourishes, inject pure passion. The multi-instrumentalist Padma Newsome from Clogs moves from synth, to piano to violin playing with ease.

There are gratefully received breaks in the tension. The band seamlessly move from "Mr November" into a gentle final song "About Today", best displaying the interweaving guitar play between the Dessners, like the earlier glorious "Secret Meeting". If The National conjure up storm-laden heaviness, they leave us with the calm.