Review: The National at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl

7 March 2018

The first day of March—a cloudy, windy day, perfect for the occasion, brings the National and thousands of fans to Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

“Please stand by…” the screen on stage reads for 10 minutes, before transitioning to a live camera backstage pointed at a door, as we all hold our breath waiting for the band to come out. And they take their time—first the Dessner twins Aaron and Bryce, then the Devendorf brothers Bryan and Scott, loitering around for a bit until lead singer Matt Berninger finally makes his appearance.

The crowd roars with anticipation as they make their way on stage. Matt addresses us briefly: “Thank you for coming tonight,” and immediately begins with ‘Nobody Else Will Be There’, softening the audience with his baritone voice.

The concert was a perfect balance between soft and hard—at times the audience stood still and quiet to songs like ‘Born to Beg’ and ‘I Need My Girl’, while everyone danced during ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’ and ‘Fake Empire’.

Matt’s quips between songs were aptly juxtaposed to the melancholy nature of his lyrics—he would pause, take a sip of his liquor of choice—most likely wine—in a plastic red cup, chuck it out to the audience, and then say a few words to segue into the next song.

Unafraid to shy away from the recent tragedies in the US, Matt mentions an NRA backed senator in Ohio and says, “fuck him,” before the stage lights up with red, only red, and Bryan on drums signals the beginning of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’. This was perhaps my favourite performance: “Stand up straight, at the foot of your love, I lift my shirt up,” and I immediately have the goosebumps.

Introducing ‘Turtleneck’—a controversial song on their new album Sleep Well Beast—they bring up their friend Steve, who “wears a lot of turtlenecks, and they make him look professorial”; before ‘Carin at the Liquor Store’, Matt says, “We should all listen to wives and daughters more,” (Carin being his wife).

In a much anticipated moment, Matt joins the crowd during ‘Day I Die’, much to the chagrin of stage techs. He stumbles through as fans crowd around him—this is a staple of a National concert.

By the end of the show, Matt is drunk and his voice wrecked—he screamed through ‘Squalor Victoria’ and ‘Mr. November’, knocking mic stands around, and the final song—‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’, is a special moment. Aaron and Bryce are handed acoustic guitars, and in a flourish, Matt removes his earpiece. Stage lighting is stripped to a minimum, and the audience falls quiet in anticipation.

“Leave your home, change your name,” they begin, and everyone joins in. The choir is warm but melancholic at the same time, fittingly for a National song. The crowd sings, “All the very best of us, string ourselves up for love,” people are cheering but the bittersweet lyrics echo our feelings as we know we’ll have to say goodbye to the National for now, after the final line falls silent.

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