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At the Palace

Back in the midst of the pandemic, I was meant to be going to see The National at Brixton Academy. There was a lot of talk about how they were going to probably play "High Violet" in full to mark the 10th anniversary of the LP. It didn't happen. The gigs got rescheduled and then cancelled, and although they did come over last year for a few outdoor dates, I didn't want to pay the big prices to see one band. This year, they announced dates at Alexandra Palace. They first announced a date for this Tuesday, and then followed it up with a Wednesday show as well and I bought tickets for both shows, partly to compensate for the in-between years, and partly because I thought something special might happen.

The shows finally came around this week, hard on the heels of a surprise second LP of the year. You'd expect shows focussed on those new LPs but the setlists of recent have shown a willingness to mix it up, and long long sets. The first show was fantastic - they played a great mix of the obvious songs (Bloodbuzz Ohio, Fake Empire) and ended with a crowd version of Vanderlyle. What's not to love? But a few songs in, Aaron said that they were gonna mix it up and play no repeats across the two nights. Not everybody seemed to clock it but at the start of the second show everybody was speculating, heightened when they opened with Runaway. A couple of songs in, he said that it was an idea they were going to follow through, so we got a set without the obvious songs, and steeped with the ones that they occasionally pull out of the bag - Squalor Victoria, Available, Wasp Nest. I could pick out another dozen such rarities in an extraordinary 30 song set. It was the first show in around 20 years where I was at the front of the venue and it was a real treat to be there. It reminded me of the REM shows back in 2003 where they were doing a similar thing - digging into the catalogue and pulling out nuggets like Cuyahoga or Driver 8. The difference there is that they still kept the bones of the set together with tracks like Everybody Hurts and Losing My Religion. Sometimes you strike gold, and that was one of those sets that you know fans will be talking about for a long time to come. I felt hugely lucky to be there.

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