THE National arrived in Edinburgh celebrating their first UK Number One album, but the four new tracks from Sleep Well Beast with which they chose to open the first of two Usher Hall shows may well take some time to bed in. Despite the anticipation-raising “please stand by” notice flashed on the big screen alongside backstage footage of the band waiting in the wings (no crazy pre-gig rituals to see here), the opening half hour felt like a moody preamble, with the audience left wondering when the gig was going to start.
The National ***
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
The tasteful constituent elements of The National’s sound don’t always add up to a satisfying whole, though frontman Matt Berninger was given to the occasional throat-shredding vocal and guitarist Aaron Dessner threw out brief bursts of elegant, keening guitar which excited sections of the crowd.
Ironically, it was another new song, Turtleneck, which finally stirred the pot with its epic riffing and ragged vocals taking the band from sonic saunter to Stooges wigout in seconds. The hungry audience pounced on the driving Bloodbuzz Ohio from their breakthrough album High Violet, and the compelling groove and ringing riffs on Day I Die provided another energy peak, though the momentum was lost again on the brooding fare to which they would often retreat, with only the melancholy resonance of Kyle Resnick’s trumpet for comfort.
Resnick and trombonist Ben Lanz rounded off the main set with a lovely brass fanfare, while the duelling Dessners pointed their guitars to the stars despite failing to scale the heights on this occasion.