Words Myrthe Braam

Auckland was blessed with one of those perfect sunny Sundays and everyone at the Villa Maria Estate seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it. Arriving late afternoon, the gathering of people on the grass looked more like a big family picnic then a rock concert about to happen.

When local indie-folk act Tiny Ruins took the stage, the sun was still in full blaze. The girls are forced to perform in oversized sunnies and Hollie Fullbrook apologises more than once, explaining that her guitar is not particularly “happy with the sun.” Even though only a few dozen people make the effort to stand up and listen intently while the majority of people seem more focused on the contents of their chilly bins, the band manages to get a decent applause from the crowd after each song.

Picnics are being put away during the final line check and more people gather excitingly in front of the stage. The backdrop is showing distorted film shots and the crowd cheers as the realisation hits that these images are live and we are looking at The National making their way to the stage.

The band kicks off with a selection of powerful songs from their new album Sleep Well Beast. Both Nobody Else Will be There and The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness are performed with great dynamic with a dazzling light show, and it doesn’t take long before the energy of the band is taken on by the audience.

A delighted cheer welcomes the first notes of Don’t Swallow The Cap and while singer Matt Berninger picks his way through the entire band’s discography with songs like Bloodbuzz Ohio, Squalor Victoria and I Need My Girl, it becomes clear that most songs from earlier albums are well-known amongst the crowd. Despite referring back to previous albums throughout the night, nearly all songs of Sleep Well Beast are being performed, with an almost violent version of Turtleneck leaving Berninger’s voice ragged.

For the first half of the show, Berninger doesn’t offer much interaction in between songs apart from the obligatory “thanks”. He seems to be having fun though when announcing All the Wine with a chuckled “this song is fucking perfect for this night”. It’s not until the performance of Day I Die and Terrible Love, played as encore, that Berninger feels like getting up close and personal by walking up to the front row, receiving hugs and high fives, followed by jumping the fence to mingle with his fans.

The band creates a highlight of the night by closing off with an acoustic version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. The lyrics are completely taken care of by the audience, ultimately joined by Berninger, who ends up taking someone’s phone to record himself and the audience’s sing-along.

A great end to a great show, with both band and audience in excellent condition. It definitely looks like The National has made some new friends in New Zealand and the compelling new songs of Sleep Well Beast are likely to be among the well-known lyrics the next time the band visits our country.