Latitude Festival 2011: The National
The National were a headliner that no one really predicted, with no new material out and having already headlined The Word Arena with a sublime performance in 2010. This is far from a bad thing, The National are in my view one of the strongest and most expert bands on the scene.
This was the third time I'd seen The National and the second in quick succession. Having seen the band deliver a set of hits and rarities alongside members of Arcade Fire at Main Square Festival in France, my expectations were understandably high - especially with this set being a festival headliner. The crowds flocked in and the set went off to a great start, with the band clearly humbled to be headlining a festival that musicians often cite as their favourite to play.
However, a lack of surprises throughout the set left me feeling quite underwhelmed. The band mainly played songs from the 2010 High Violet album, one of my personal favourite albums of all time, but with the extensive touring following its release, the material felt a little exhausted. That being said, the performance of a fantastic brand new song showed a glimmer of optimism and excitement at the prospect of a new album. Nevertheless, there was nothing at all wrong with the actual performance of the material. My bias lies in the fact that this is the third time I've seen the band, to a first time viewer I'm sure the performance appeared as strong as it felt when I first saw them. That is, until the encore.
The band returned to stage to play a stripped back acoustic version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. Front-man Matt Berninger stood at the front of the stage encouraging onlookers to sing along before descending into the crowds and emerging himself. To an audience of solely National fans, this would've been a strong finale. However, the band somewhat missed the point in that at a festival, the massive crowds aren't going to made up of 100% doting fans and rather a huge amount of people who are checking the band out for no other reason that they are a headliner of a festival they already happen to be at. Festivals are often about winning over new fans, so the sing along fell flat on its face with few people even mouthing the lyrics and ended the set on a slightly embarrassing and awkward note.
Regardless of all of this, The National are still one of my favourite bands and generally know how to give a powerful and memorable performance - it's like a dagger in my heart to write anything negative about them. The sneak preview of material to come gives suggests a positive future for the band and is something that would certainly benefit the live performance.