Live Review: The National – Sounds Of The City, Manchester

Manchester’s Sounds Of The City – set in the 8,000-capacity city-centre Castlefield Bowl, has offered up some real gems this year. From Bloc Party to Elbow, to flippin’ Kylie Minogue. It’s a glorious urban venue boasting just another highlight of Manchester’s ever-flousrising city centre and this evening, the home to The National’s first European headline-outing of their new record, I Am Easy To Find.

The show kicks off with the introduction of three female support-singers alongside the always dapper-looking frontman Matt Berninger. Mina Tindle, Eve Owen and Gail Ann Dorsey (recognisable as the bassist for the late, great David Bowie). Their stunning harmonies immediately indicate that this is going to be a special show, as Dorsey takes the lead on opener You Had Your Soul With You. Berninger on the other hand seems a little rusty, particularly when he introduces Quiet Light…seconds after just performing it! It’s not clear from where we’re standing if the teleprompter is in use – introduced to their shows a few years ago following numerous stage fright and panic-induced forgettings of lyrics from Berninger – but to be honest, does anybody in the crowd care? Of course not!

In fact, Berninger’s delivery increases with gusto (and booze) as the set continues, leading to the first roar from the crowd as Don’t Swallow The Cap kicks in, followed by fan-favourite and all-round belter, Bloodbuzz Ohio. Mina Tindle’s stunning vocals carry the beautiful, recent single Oblivions, before Owen and Dorsey rejoin the party for one of the finest moments of the evening. Their performance of Where Is Her Head is, as Berninger states himself, simply flawless.

The hits come thick and fast in the second half of the set, as Berninger heads off on another romp into the crowd, presumably with shinpads in place, as the Dessner and Devendorf brothers storm into Apartment Story, Day I Die and the sensational The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness, during which Berninger attempts to throw his drink into the crowd, but ultimately comes whiskers away from chucking it right back onto himself – cue man with towel please!

The sensational, crowd-pleasing Fake Empire and new-album standout Rylan bring the main set to a close, before the band return to the stage for a wonderful, eventful five-song encore, consisting of the politicised Not In Kansas and Mr. November, during which Berninger wraps himself in a LGBTQ+ flag, Terrible In Love, during which Berninger’s specs are lost to the raucous crowd, and Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, during which the house lights are brought up and the sound cut – granted, they’re running a little late, but come on! Either way, the crowd stick up a communal two fingers to the license-law guys, raise their beautiful heads to the now rain-soaked sky and triumphantly sing, “all the very best of us string ourselves up for love” as the night closes in – it’s all just a little bit beautiful.

Words & Image by Dom Kay