Live Report: The National – Crystal Palace Park, London

An exceptional evening with an exceptional band...

In the 25 years since their formation, Ohio’s The National has become one of the most recognisable faces on the Indie/Alternative scene with a string of acclaimed albums including Boxer, Alligator, Sleep Well Beast and two in 2023. Fresh off an exhilarating set headlining The Other Stage at Glastonbury and with a string of shows across the UK, the group graced a wet and gloomy Friday evening in Crystal Palace Park delivering a knockout two and a half hour set that encompassed tracks from across their 10 albums. The band themselves remarked that the ominous weather suited, their trademark gloomy ‘sad dad’ brand of rock. 

The day saw an eclectic mix of acts before The National, with Kate Stables’ This Is The Kit delivering her unique blend of folk / indie to a warm response on one of the sunnier parts of the day, having opened for The National on their other UK dates. Stables also joined The National for a rousing rendition of ‘Rylan’, to a warm response. 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra was a perfect warmup for the main event, as with other acts battling with the rain that came and went throughout the afternoon/evening but never dampened the crowd’s spirits. They raced through tracks like ‘Necessary Evil’, ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’, ‘Hunnybee’ and ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’, to a warm response bringing a psychedelic flavour to the diverse set of music. 

From the opener ‘Runaway’, it was clear The National’s set would be something special for an audience that ranged from teens to people well into adulthood all swept along by the beauty and power of their music. It was a set full of singalongs and quieter more intimate moments, Matt Berninger having the crowd in the palm of his hand.

Tracks off of 2023 album ‘The First Two Pages of Frankenstein’ – ‘Laugh Track like Eucalyptus’ and ‘Tropic Morning News’ – slotted in effortlessly among tried and tested staples. They effortlessly worked through their extensive back catalogue with ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ and ‘High Violet’ making up the largest portions of the set but fans of their whole catalogue would have left happy. 

An energetic ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, a firm fan favourite finished with the band reflecting on the UK General Election result and lamenting the political situation in the US before launching into a frantic version of ‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’, the only track to feature from 2017’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’. 

It was a packed crowd, in fine voice, launching into singalongs even for some of the band’s less-known tracks, a sign of their popularity Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner added deadpan humour throughout. For a two and a half hour show, there was never a wasted moment or bum note, perhaps most impressive was how effortlessly Dessner shifted from his role as keyboardist and guitarist, sometimes doing both on one track. 

‘Fake Empire’ which so memorably opens 2007’s ‘Boxer’ as ever closed the band’s main set in ethereal fashion, less energetic than some of the set but still as beautiful 17 years on from its release. ‘Light Years’ saw a sea of phone lights shining among the South London gloom while ‘Mr November’ was one of the most memorable moments of the night. The set culminated in a spellbinding rendition of ‘About Today’ before an acoustic version of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’, involving the crowd, the perfect way to round out a euphoric set. 

The set proved The National are still one of the finest bands around, some 25 years on from their formation, continuing to win new fans with their artistry. This was the perfect advert for their moody rock and the crowd was swept along in a sea of beautiful, haunting melodies. Matt Berninger proving he is a unique frontman and it is hard not to be impressed by the group’s professionalism and effortless quality. 

Words: Christopher Connor
Photography: Danny Payne

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