When a band plays second from the top of the bill at Glastonbury, it’s usually only a matter of time until they headline themselves. They’re touching the ceiling, about to burst through and touch the sky. For The National, that time is now.
The National were as far from an overnight success as you could imagine. It took four years until they hit their critical stride with third album ‘Alligator’ in 2005, its follow-up ‘Boxer’ saw them them pick up a wider audience and start to scratch the surface, then the mass-selling breakthrough of ‘High Violet’ in 2010 saw them finally enter the big leagues. Since then, they’ve headlined festivals like Latitude and sell out the enormo-dome of The O2 arena in London. Without selling their souls, piggy-backing an advert or a shit film, they’ve grown into one indie’s most beloved bands on the strength of their opulent songcraftsmanship alone – but they still aren’t a household name. But that’s all about to change.
“I feel like Biffy Clyro, Katy Perry, The National, The xx, Major Lazer – they’re all bands that could headline really,” Glasto organiser Emily Eavis told NME earlier this year. “We’re really lucky we’ve managed to fit so many incredible bands onto one weekend, on a farm.”
“I can’t disagree,” frontman Matt Berninger told NME in response. “We just turned into dicks like six months ago for the first time. It feels good. That would be amazing. Now I feel like we’re auditioning for that tonight.”
“Some day, some day,” added guitarist Aaron Dessner.
Today was not that day, but it should have been.
From the elegiac but life-affirming rush of opening song ‘Sea Of Love’, it’s clear that this is where The National belong. The sombre ache of ‘Fake Empire’ is the sound of a band destined to inherit REM’s arty college rock throne, but with the flavour of the 21st Century. Sombre never sounded as when The National aired ‘I Need My Girl’ over the fields of Worthy Farm, but it was the rushing anthemics of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ and the feral ‘Mr November’ that see the band peak.
Dedicating the dark love letter of ‘England’ to the country who have ‘been going through a lot of shit lately’ as well as showing his phone to the crowd to call on them to personally call a US politician and stop a controversial healthcare bill in the US, The National seize the day with humility, humour and romance. You can’t escape the sense of undying devotion sent towards the stage from their fans; arm-in-arm, voices ruined, hearts close to bursting – there just needs to be more of them. And there will be. The future shows yet more promise. Showcasing their new album ‘Sleep Well Beast’ with five out of the 12 songs played was a bold move, but it paid off. Comeback single ‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’ is already a firm favourite and shows the band at their very twisted best, while closing track ‘Turtleneck’ has that threatening sense of menace that The Birthday Party last perfected, but on an arena-ready scale.
Then we stood and hoped for more, but discovered their set’s only flaw: it just all ended too soon. Another reason they need to headline is purely because they didn’t have enough time to do themselves true justice, but the impact they made was immense. They’ve played the long game, and they’ve won. It’s time for the world’s biggest cult band to become a whole new beast. Congratulations The National, you passed the audition.
The National’s Glastonbury setlist was:
Sea of Love
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
Walk It Back
Day I Die
I Need My Girl
The National will return with their seventh album, ‘Sleep Well Beast’, on September 8 – their first full-length album since 2013’s ‘Trouble Will Find Me’. The frontman hinted last year that the album contains a “very dark” sound that may surprise some fans, while the tracklist features the song ‘Turtleneck’, which was debuted at an anti-Trump show last year.
Their upcoming UK and Ireland tour dates are below. Tickets are available here.
September 16 – Cork Opera House, Cork
September 17 – Vicar Street, Dublin
September 18 – Vicar Street, Dublin
September 20 – Usher Hall, Edinburgh
September 21 – Usher Hall, Edinburgh
September 22 – O2 Apollo, Manchester
September 23 – O2 Apollo, Manchester
September 25 – Eventim Hammersmith Apollo, London
September 26 – Eventim Hammersmith Apollo, London
September 27 – Eventim Hammersmith Apollo, London
September 28 – Eventim Hammersmith Apollo, London