#31 The National, Villa Maria

25 February 2018


High on a hill in a hidden vineyard in the Mangere industrial estate, on a blanket with a picnic and a glass of wine. It's bliss even before the music starts. First gig I can recall when a heron flies above the crowd during the main act. 

"I like a gig I can recline for" said Kate early in the gig as we watched from our vantage point. 

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Tiny Ruins opened. It's a difficult setting for Holly Fulbrook's quiet, gentle harmonies, but as the act unfolded it filled more and more of the venue. Cass Basil confided it was her first ever gig in sunglasses - "I feel like a rock star!" Holly and Cass are heading to the US to chase some bigger fish, and they deserve a wider appreciation beyond these shores. 

The National have a brooding yet full sound that works well in an open air setting.  Matt Berninger's resonant bass vocals maintain a self-possessed intensity throughout the concert, which occasionally he takes right into the crowd, much to their delight. Alongside the vocals, Aaron and Bryce Dessners' guitar work creates a constant counterpoint and provides an anthemic quality, a bit like The Edge in U2 but with it's own quality. For one thing, The Edge to my knowledge never put a violin bow on a guitar. 

In some respects this reminds me of Leonard Cohen's last concert at the Arena, where he was alone with a mike telling stories of life, performing with a crew at the peak of their game. This was just brought forward at least two decades and supercharged for the ride. 

Guilty Party was one of the highlights for me, a song of resignation and regret with the horns rhythmically adding to the mournful edge. Up there also were Empire Line and Bloodbuzz Ohio, the three of them creating a near permanent rotate on Spotify for the past few days. 

For the last song, Vanderlye Crybaby Geeks, the microphone is turned to the 5,000 strong crowd who then sing it in its entirety, accompanied by a sole guitar and all the band singing with them.

It was definitely a concert for the history books - one of the best of the last six months.