Brisbane Riverstage | 11 February 2014

“I’m going to drink lots of red wine, get moody and cry”.

Drinking overpriced house wine and basking in the afternoon sun on the hill at the Riverstage, I recited this covenant to my friends. They agreed to not abandon the panda-eyed girl crying the words to Conversation 16. As we laughed it off, the stage went silent.

Lights on. Backdrop lit. I ran down the hill mid-conversation, leaving my friends in the dust. It was time.

Here, in front of me, stood The National. The dark, broodingly beautiful accompaniment to past poignant moments where self-indulgent sorrow felt appropriate.

Matt Berninger paced the stage as if contemplating a life altering decision before launching into Bloodbuzz Ohio in all the rock glory this seasoned five-man-band deserve. What followed wasn’t just my reaction to years of sentimental attachment.

The experience felt from being surrounded by hundreds of bodies who are responding to their own nostalgic attachment far outweighs one’s own inward affection.

Spotlit faces fixated on the stage, collectively responding to the sorrow in Berninger’s baritone voice as he struck himself with the microphone, punishing the agony flying through his thoughts as he recited dark recollections of Graceless to our eager ears.

The stage felt too big for the intimacy The National delivered. Perhaps it’s the use of collective terms in their lyrics, such as “we”, “let’s” and “our”, allowing personal attachment, inviting us to relate to the heartache of I Should Live In Salt and sentiment of I Need My Girl.

It’s not the overblown stage show they aim to deliver, but through complimenting musical and personal skill-sets, The National requited the crowd’s musical ravenousness.

In perfect synchronisation, Berninger launched offstage after the soft, nonchalant harmony of Terrible Love escalated to a textured instrumental, running through the crowd of outstretched hands brushing his suit, mine one of them.

Conversation 16 began with a wave of electric strumming, rushing over us in a surge of shivers before Berninger’s sonorous speech broke through the swell, a sombre sonnet to the trials of marriage.

The painstakingly honest admissions had strangers standing within a few inches of each other singing their repentances together, hands on their hearts.

Its lyrics “Everything means everything” is an accurate summary of the bands musical deliverance.

Bryce Dessner’s brilliance goes beyond lead guitarist with a side of crowd-pleasing exuberance. His experience as a composer is evident in his execution and the intensity to which the band looks to him for musical provision. Similarly, drummer Bryan Devendorf was both rhythmically responsive and authoritative, determining how swiftly the crowd moved or how steadily we swayed.

Hundreds of voices banded together for an acoustic version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks led by a humbled and smiling band, making for the perfect end to an exhaustingly engaging set.

We wandered away disorientated and content, exchanging smiles like we had just shared something too incomprehensible to converse. You’ll have to go see for yourself.

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