Berlin: The National

Stepping away from the Arsenal related madness of the last 48 hours- UEFA have opened disciplinary procedures against Samir Nasri and Arsene Wenger following our Champions League exit, I’ve opened disciplinary procedures against UEFA after they gave us a shit referee- it’s time to go to a happier place. Now, that doesn’t include last night’s viewing of True Grit, which a fine addition to the Coen brothers canon of excellence. It does mean rewinding a couple of weeks to the trip that Jo and I made to Berlin.

Berlin? In February? It must have been freezing? Are you mad? The answer to the first three of those questions is yes. The answer to the fourth is that we just wanted to see our new favourite band. Yes, we went and suffered temperatures of -6, just so we could go and watch the Ohio raised, Brooklyn based band of brothers known as The National play in a sweaty hall for a couple of hours. A band that I hadn’t even heard of this time last year. And you know what? It was worth every second traipsing around the coldest city I’ve ever experienced. I should say that the Berlin trip originated from the amount of snow we had on the 30th November last year that meant three standing tickets to The National’s Brixton Academy gig went to waste (Jo’s dad loves them too).

Yes, I did just say that it’s taken The National nine years and five albums to drift into my consciousness. My loss.

I’ve become an increasingly nervous flier as I’ve got older, not that I’m nervous on the plane but just thinking about it. Prior to our flight to Berlin, I was convinced the plane was gonna crash- robbing us of our chance to see this band live and, as a second thought, almost certainly killing us. Once we arrived in Berlin, I didn’t really care whether the plane crashed on the way back, at least I would have seen them in action.

So, on our last evening in Berlin, we set off from our little apartment in the IMA Design Village in Kreuzberg and headed off on the U-Bahn system towards Columbiadamm. Home of the historically Nazi Tempelhof airport, but also home to the Columbiahalle. Or should I say, Columbiahalles- next door to each other, there was something called Combichrist going on in the other one. I didn’t ask. Security barked something incomprehensible at me, “English” I smiled back at him, I think I may have turned it into a Steve McLarenesque “Englisch”, halfway between my language and the German guard’s. “Open your coat,” he said remembering a “please” at the last minute. “Thank you” I said and obliged. We were in and The Good The Bad And The Queen’s Kingdom of Doom was playing, soon replaced by The Guns of Brixton.

Becks purchased, always Becks, we headed towards the stage and got a spot about 4 or 5 rows from the front, the support act, Sharon von Etten was quite an engaging, genial presence on stage. As an added bonus, The National’s guitarist, tunesmith and apparently all round good egg, Aaron Dessler joined her for her final couple of songs. We liked her.

She went, the music began again, The Clash again (definitely not MIA’s Paper Planes) and Straight to Hell were cut off though by the dimming of the lights, Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man and the arrival of the band in front of a purple backdrop. With a friendly wave to the crowd from singer, Matt Berninger, they kicked into Start A War, from 2007 album Boxer. Which struck me as the perfect song to begin with, “We expected something, something better than before/ we expected something more”. Indeed we did. Indeed they delivered it.

The National

Anyone’s Ghost, Baby We’ll Be Fine, Bloodbuzz Ohio had the crowd singing from the rooftops but things went up a notch, for me at least, with the 3 song run of Squalor Victoria (I guess I just like to see a grown man bent double and screaming), Afraid of Anyone which had an amazingly effective visual of someone’s eye and the brilliant Conversation 16, “a love song with all the love taken out… it still counts” according to Matt. Lemonworld followed that and was followed by All The Wine, which was followed two songs later, by Aaron playing the opening chord to Sorrow for three minutes whilst Matt went to “take a piss”. All The Wine indeed. The highlight of the night was a ferocious Abel, after which I could breathe and be happy.. Or, alternatively, holler into the ear of an unfortunate girl in front of me. The rather gorgeus and hitherto unknown, Wasp’s Nest followed that. England didn’t make me cry like I expected it to (not that I minded because it was still sad and uplifting and brilliant all at once). Fake Empire closed the main set out to great appreciation.

The guys returned and after You Were A Kindness, Mr November saw Matt off stage and into the audience. A trick repeated during Terrible Love with it’s cascading guitars and crashing drums. And had me feeling a little sorry for the band tasked with staying on stage, in time and in tune. But that was the end of the pyrotechnics. The electricity had been used for the evening and so the brothers Dessner retreated to acoustic guitars and drummer boy Brian took up a tambourine. And the crowd joined Matt as he sang Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, the closing track on High Violet.

It was a magic moment, albeit one that demanded you sang along to it. As the last track of the night, I recorded a video of it. However, after two minutes singing along to it, I say singing… I realised that there was no point videoing as my voice would ruin the video, so I put my phone away and gave myself to the moment. I suspect those around me might have been happier had I carried on recording…

Conversation 16

Mr November live

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1 Response to Berlin: The National

  1. Jim Condon says:

    Bloody great piece! Well done and what a band!


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