Review: The National at Vector Arena

KASHKA TUNSTALL
Last updated 12:59 05/02/2014
Matt Berninger

RAW ENERGY: The National's Matt Berninger.

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The National
Auckland, Vector Arena, 4 February

Matt Berninger is full of nervous energy. Pacing back and forth with one hand on his forehead and the other clutching a glass of wine.

His beard is greying. His coat and tie neatly adjusted, the 42-year-old looks like he would be more at ease at the front of a classroom or lecture hall.

Instead, he's standing in front of thousands under spotlights. He's sweating. Looks uncomfortable.

But when he connects with the microphone he becomes a man possessed. A raw, explosive energy takes over and makes him the lead man every lead man wants to be.

Masterful vocal range, crowd surfing, swigging from a wine bottle on stage, breaking glasses.

Chuck in guitar solos powering out in nearly every song, this is the kind of live-band experience you dream of. This is what you get with The National.

The American indie rock band were back in town yesterday, upgrading from the The Powerstation, where they sold out three shows in 2011, to the Vector Area in Auckland in a one-night-only gig.

A bold move, but it paid off. A decent floor crowd and about three-quarters of the stands were restlessly waiting by the time the band ambled out.

No fanfare, no grand entrance. The five-piece - with two extra musos to fill out their live sound - walked on stage, picked up their gear and kicked off.

Usual bassist Scott Devendorf is spending time at home with a new baby, so the band welcomed friend Logan Coale to stand in for him.

Don't Swallow The Cap, followed by I Should Live In Salt, opened the show - anthems from the latest album, and reason for the tour, Trouble Will Find Me. Tracks Bloodbuzz Ohio and Afraid of Everyone had the crowd swelling and vocal as the instruments raised to hysterical crescendos.

Last year, the band contributed song Lean (originally called Dying is Easy) towards the soundtrack for the latest instalment of The Hunger Games.

Berninger dedicated its performance to late, great actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from the film franchise, taking a moment mid-song to pour from his bottle of wine in honour of the man.

He rated local talent too.

The band members were at the Grammys last week, up for their first nomination in the best alternative album category. They ultimately lost out to Vampire Weekend, but Berninger gave props to Lorde and her performance.

"She was the best thing about that whole circus," he said.

A thunderous call for encore had Berninger crowd surfing through track Mr November, mic cord passed above the crowd's heads as he weaved through the stadium floor.

By the time the opening notes of Terrible Love were sounded, he was pushing into the stands, tugging on the cord to work his way as far back as possible.

The show closed with Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. Just acoustic guitars, and the audience chanting back the lyrics to Berninger and the band in a heady trance, coming down from the electrifying lights and sounds of the hour and a half that preceded it.

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