LIVE REVIEW: The National at All Points East Festival, Mile End, London

THE NATIONAL Announce "An Exciting Communal Event" Series
photo credit: Graham MacIndoe

All Points East only started in 2018, and in less than five years, it has become a ten-day festival catering to 40,000 music lovers daily. The first-day headliner was Gorillaz, where Alina Salihbekova captured some of the finest images of Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, Mike Smith, Karl Vanden Bossche, Jesse Hackett, Jeff Wootton, Seye Adelekan, Remi Kabaka Jr. and Femi Koleoso for XS Noize. On day eight, XS Noize returned to All Points East to see headliners The National deliver an 18-song set.

The sun had set, and the Ohio natives came on stage in black. The Dessner and Devendorf brothers and frontman Matt Berninger opened the set with "Don't Swallow the Cap" from their 2013 LP Trouble Will Find Me. The rock anthems continued with additional rawness on "Mistaken for Strangers" from The National's LP Boxer.

While festival-goers naturally showed enthusiasm and a joyous atmosphere permeated East London, fans showed exceptional restraint even when Matt threw himself into the crowd several times. Each time a crew member was able to follow Berninger, safely trailing what seemed like endlessly extending wires. Frontmen pursuing and ingratiating themselves with the crowd is nothing new. However, going out at a different angle each time beyond the first few feet where the crowd was standing allowed all to feel an additional layer of intimacy with a band that has a history exceeding three decades.

The National excelled themselves in stadium rock with "Day I Die". The similarities with Editors were at their most stark here. As Berninger sang hauntingly depressing lyrics, including, "Cause I really don't have the courage not to turn the volume up inside my ears", smiles and elation soared to an even higher plain. The National then showed the best of their sanguine side with the piano ballad "Light Years", where Matt's voice induced chills in Lennon Cohen style. The poignant upbeat stadium rock returned with "Rylan", which saw Berninger duet with Eve Owen, which asked interesting questions, including, Don't you wanna be popular culture?

The band showcased two new songs from their upcoming ninth album. The best-received new song "Weird Goodbyes" saw the Ohio band joined by Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold who had also played with his band at All Points East earlier the same day. The haunting piano and joint harmonies for this ballad amidst synthetic drum beats proved to be suitable matches.

While The National's strength and appeal lie in their ability to create joy by emitting intense, built-up energy, they also demonstrated delightful humour when they dedicated "Pink Rabbits" to Matt's parents, who were celebrating their 51st wedding anniversary. The joke involved Matt's parents disagreeing and then bickering regarding what was needed for a lasting marriage.

Despite the consistent guitar-based rock stadium factor, albeit with a string section, The National ended the set with an extended version of an exceptionally melancholy song, "About Today". The crowd warmly welcomed the emotive soundscape amidst the lyrics of dysfunction and detachment. If there was ever a song and performance that could create elation by evoking sadness, "About Today" should be in the top ten. The smiles and glows on people's faces reflected positive happiness. The National read their fans perfectly and delivered.

 

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