Music review: The National, Hydro, Glasgow

The National may have started this Glasgow show slowly, but by the end they were projecting full-blooded arena rock energy, writes David Pollock

The National, Hydro, Glasgow ****

Despite their well-known association with Taylor Swift, American rock group The National seem like such an unlikely arena-rock proposition – a concert hall band whose music increasingly (especially on this year’s albums First Two Pages of Frankenstein and Laugh Track) suggests intimate listening. What was most pleasing about experiencing this show, then, wasn’t that they rose to the occasion well, but that they did it on their own terms.

The early sections of the show, no doubt aided by the simulated closeness of seeing singer Matt Berninger (the grey-haired, black-suited acme of the modern heartthrob dad) and co projected on the big stageside screens, came with a musical warmth which doubtless had the crowd feeling as though they were listening at home on headphones.

Matt Berninger of The National PIC: Sebastian Reuter/Getty ImagesMatt Berninger of The National PIC: Sebastian Reuter/Getty Images
Matt Berninger of The National PIC: Sebastian Reuter/Getty Images
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Berninger politely hugged the well-mannered front row during Don’t Swallow the Cap, and guitarist Aaron Dessner told of the odd time signature at the core of the heart-grabbing Demons. This wasn’t quite AC/DC, but the show’s energy rose steadily, with Berninger’s voice high in the mix, the better to enjoy the lyricism of Bloodbuzz Ohio and the sparse tenderness of I Need My Girl.

His vocal approached a shout amid big hit The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness, its live rhythm echoing the night-trippin’ Dr John, while Apartment Story’s riff called to mind New Order. By the end of an unflabby 27-song set, the rock floodgates had opened with the shouty, anguished Smoke Detector, and Dessner’s complaint that “I think I destroyed my hand” on its battering chords.

By Graceless, Berninger was marching through the crowd, his voice a gruff murmur on About Today. The encores of Mr November and Terrible Love, in particular, bore the full arena rock energy which earlier seemed so unlikely. The dedication of Mistaken for Strangers to Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison was a beautiful touch too, in a set full of them.