I wouldn’t say I was late to The National. In fact, I think in UK Terms I was relatively early to them. A forum I used to post on regularly had a couple of posters who loved Boxer, and were regularly saying that it was not just the best album of the year (2007) but probably of the noughties. To start with I confused them with a band called Grand National who I didn’t really “get” and then thought, nothing could possibly be this good so I’m not going to even bother.
I eventually gave it the time it deserved in late 2007. I probably in my most rabid Radiohead phase at that point, so some new morose was just what the doctor ordered.
I first caught The National headline The John Peel stage in 2008, with not many people watching, and have continued to follow them (I think I’ve seen them on every tour they’ve done since Boxer).
Royal Festival Hall was the first headline gig of theirs I saw. I’d previously done some work at a small record label, and someone I knew connected to the label was also a massive fan and managed to get us 2 free tickets in a box over looking the stage. I also happened to be sitting next to Felix from The Maccabees, who happened to be my favourite new band at that time.
Needless to say, I was in my element. Watching this incredible band of musicians, the drums not just keeping everyone in check but driving the songs, the layers of music created. It was perfect. Matt Berninger was still a reluctant front man at this stage. Nervous. Not knowing what to do when he wasn’t singing, shuffling slightly awkwardly facing the band, sipping/guzzling his way through a bottle of wine (which if memory serves me right, was used as a makeshift drum late in the gig), gradually warming to the task, engaging with the audience, telling, no, demanding them, to get up from their seats, before eventually walking into and beyond the audience while singing Mr November in the Encore. Now it’s a regular part of any National gig, and one of the most enjoyable, as you wonder just how far he’ll go, and the lengths fully grown adults will go to get near their hero. But here, it was still spontaneous, thrilling. Everything live music should be.