The National are a band which you really need to hear their material to fully understand them. Yes, they are magic to watch live but to really appreciate the lyrical prowess of singer Matt Berninger, the subtle interlocking guitars of Bryce and Aaron Dessner, or the layered, syncopated drum sounds of Bryan Devendorf, you really need to have those songs and all those tiny, wondrous little nuances committed to memory to really allow their sound to envelop you in a live setting.
As the rain yet again begins another steady drive upon the tired and hollow frames of the Leeds Festival goers, one thing becomes apparent: very few people standing towards the front of the stage know who The National are.
Appearing on stage to a relatively lacklustre welcome from the crowd (this is a band who undoubtedly should have everything they do followed by rapturous applause), they launch straight into the jerky 'Mistaken for Strangers'. As those shrill guitars try and scythe away at the indifference of many, the fans are easy to spot: hands on chests, fingers pointing in the air and singing with the kind of over-blown, over-awed intensity usually reserved for X-Factor finals.
With most of the set's material resting heavily on their fifth and most successful album to date, "High Violet", it becomes something of a showcase for the album for the uninitiated. The slow, dramatic burn of 'England' is even more tremulous with the wind whipping wildly at the stage, whereas 'Terrible Love' really comes into its own in a live setting (and sounds much better than the original album version with its ratcheting intensity), as does 'Conversation 16' with its casual macabre refrain of "I was afraid I'd eat your brains/ Cos I'm Evil".
Almost, but not quite enticing the crowd into frenzy, it is 'Abel' and 'Mr November' that are the real highlights of the set with their incendiary sound and vocal-shredding sing-along choruses . As the usually swoon-some tone of Berninger's baritone is replaced by wholehearted, impassioned shrieks, they just may be the songs that could win them some new fans.
The National are a band who it is easy to get almost evangelical about; with four minute songs more grandiose than an opus, it is hard not to really take them to your heart. Perhaps it was fact that the crowd were not unanimously overthrown by the subtleties of their sound, or maybe it was the incessant drive of bracing winds and rain dampened the reaction of the assembled masses, but regardless, to those who know and love the band it was nothing short of wonderful.