Live Gallery and Review: The National at the ICC, Sydney 1.03.2024

The National

The National are playing the ICC in Sydney on a sultry autumn night. One of the most acclaimed indie rock bands of the 21st Century, The National comprise lead vocalist Matt Berninger, brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitar and keyboards, and the rhythm section of brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums, the band’s distinctive sound blends melancholic lyrics with lush, intricate instrumentation.

Each member of The National has pursued intriguing side projects that showcase their diverse talents. Matt Berninger collaborated with Brent Knopf in the indie rock duo EL VY and released a solo album, ‘Serpentine Prison.’

Aaron Dessner has become a sought-after producer and songwriter, co-writing and producing Taylor Swift’s critically acclaimed albums ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore.’ Bryce Dessner, a classical composer, has worked with the likes of the Kronos Quartet and Steve Reich. Meanwhile, Scott and Bryan Devendorf have explored new musical territories with their side project, LNZNDRF.

It’s kind of ironic to have Aaron Dessner performing in Sydney, just a few days after the Taylor Swift juggernaut has just passed through this city. I notice a few audience members wearing Taylor Swift T shirts tonight and I wonder if their attendance at The National’s concert is an attempt to extend their infatuation with Swift. Berninger’s family is not immune to the Swift phenomenon and he has spoken about his daughter being a Taylor Swift fan.

Fleet Foxes are the opening act tonight, from the moment they take the stage, the audience is enveloped in their harmonious sound that to me, echoes the lyrical brilliance of Paul Simon. Their lush harmonies and intricate melodies transport us, evoking the rich, layered vocal arrangements of the Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Then the National are up with Matt Berninger captivating the audience, teetering on risers and almost tumbling over as he stretches toward the crowd behind the barricade, desperate to make contact. His eagerness to connect with the fans is palpable, and the crowd responds with overwhelming love and affection, reaching out to him with outstretched hands. This intimate exchange between Berninger and the audience amplifies the emotional intensity of the performance, creating a bond that seems to transcend the physical barriers of the stage, even if his ensemble of dark suit and glasses is more Wall Street than rock stage.

The band kicks off with ‘Once Upon a Poolside’ from their recent album ‘First Two Pages Of Frankenstein.’ During ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ Berninger makes the first of many forays deep into the audience, delighting the crowd as he sings intently into their faces, demanding their attention. Around me, people are dancing wildly, in the row in front, a family of four sing the lyrics to one another, there’s even a baby, about six months old, sporting blue ear muffs here!

Berninger tells us that he forgot the show shoes that he has been wearing at concerts for 12 years at his hotel and tonight he is wearing iconic, Aussie Blundstones instead. ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ is followed by a flurry of classic songs, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio,’ ‘The system only sleeps in total darkness’ and ‘I need my girl,’ which is dedicated to “Frankie,” which is Berninger’s affectionate nickname for his daughter Isla. At one stage, Berninger teases that the band will be releasing a new album called ‘Frankie’s Feet (or was it Fleet?).’

Berninger is frenetic throughout, lying on the ground, jumping into the crowd, there is a roadie who has the exhausting job of disentangling his long mic lead as the singer weaves his way through the mosh and auditorium. at times even reaching the upper levels of the venue.

The Dessner brothers are obviously having a great time, exchanging sly glances and smiles. It’s remarkable that, despite many years of success and acclaim, they still seem so enthusiastic and unjaded.

The setlist is a great mix of old and new songs, the band tells us that they like reviving and reinterpreting their older tunes for live shows.

‘Space Invader’ is last and is dedicated to the support acts Fleet Foxes and Annie Hamilton. The band leaves the stage to roars of disapproval and after mass chanting of “One more song!” and ear shattering foot stomping, they return for an encore of 5 tunes. At one point, Berninger gets so carried away he throws a bottle of water upwards into the air and it narrowly misses one of the Dressners when it crashes into the stage.

For the last song, ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,’ the mic is turned around to face the audience and a massive singalong ensues. The band members stand in a line on stage, while Berninger conducts the choir of 7000 people and then abruptly throws his new Blundstones to a lucky audience member and just like that, it’s over.

All in all, the show is memorable and emotional experience, with lead singer Matt Berninger’s interactions with the crowd being a highlight. He puts his body on the line with his frequent excursions into the audience, at times lying down, seemingly spent after fully immersing himself in the moment. These genuine interactions create a unique and intimate atmosphere, making the concert an unforgettable experience. Backed by superstar musicians and combined with Berninger’s personal touch, tonight’s show leaves an indelible impression on all who are here to witness it.

I can’t help wondering who got the Blundstones.

Previous Live Review: Editors / Coach Party - O2 Academy, Leeds 27.02.2024
Next Live Review & Gallery: Pop Will Eat Itself Brings Four Decades of Alt-Rock Debauchery to Manning Bar - Gadigal/Sydney, 01.03.2024

1 Comment

  1. ian leadbetter
    March 3, 2024

    I wonder about the guy who got the mic stand!
    he must have got it out the venue cos he was complaining about his new mic stand on Saturday.

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