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LIVE REVIEW: The National @ Riverstage

The summer breeze and softening skies graced my journey to Meanjin/Brisbane’s iconic Riverstage. The Wednesday afternoon hum slowly faded behind me as I made my way across a busy Goodwill Bridge. I never skip a chance to walk by the river, nor do I skip a lineup as incredible as The National, Fleet Foxes and Annie Hamilton, for that matter. The golden wash over our pretty city felt like the perfect way to kick off this highly anticipated tour.

It’s the first time either The National or Fleet Foxes have graced our shores since 2018, and you can feel the excitement. 

First for the night, Eora/Sydney based Annie Hamilton stepped onto the stage and into view. Adorned with glistening hand-crafted bat wings, an ethereal aura, and an electric guitar, her lush yet electrifying performance perfectly sets the tone for the evening. 

There’s a real art to playing solo, something Annie does beautifully. Her voice oscillates effortlessly between the delicate and the powerful, mirroring the ebb and flow of her intricate guitar arrangements.

I admire Annie - a multifaceted creative who weaves poetry into every element of her craft.

I think the rapidly filling amphitheater did too, as she played a selection of her best songs including my fave “Panic”, and her newest release (which dropped earlier that day) “Talk”

“This is so surreal for me. The National is one of my favourite bands ever.”

We beamed back at her in excitement, both for her and for what was still to come.

I’ve been listening to Fleet Foxes since my uni days, but hadn’t had the chance to see them live yet, so to be standing in that crowd felt extra special.

Soft chatter and anticipation filled the cooling air as the band softly stepped onto the stage. In a moment, everything else was whisked away by warm, familiar harmony.

“What a life I lead in the summer, what a life I lead in the spring.”  

A smile swept across my face as we all watched, entranced.

Hues of red and orange flooded the stage, like a mirror to the skies behind us, as waves of trombone and acoustic guitar swelled through the ampitheatre. It wasn’t long before the audience rose to their feet, for an anthemic rendition of “Can I Believe You”, from their 2020 album “Shore”.

I’ve always admired Fleet Foxes' arrangements, presenting to me like an intricate moving puzzle put together with great care. Throughout the set, the 7-piece band masterfully swapped instruments between each other - passing around guitars, a mandolin, a flute and various percussion instruments to suit each song. 

About half way through their show, we were wowed with a moving rendition of “Phoenix”. “Thank you so much and thank you to the great Aaron Dessner for that song”, lead singer Robin Pecknold said at the end. I hadn’t realised just how many of my favourite songwriters came together to create this track -  Aaron Dessner, Anais Mitchell, Justin Vernon, Robin Pecknold, The Westerlies. Of course this song is other worldly, as was it’s performance. 

The live arrangement of “Blue Ridge Mountains” from their self-titled debut album was my favourite of the evening. As the song built, it felt almost gallant with the addition of trombone crescendos and countermelodies. It felt like a warm hug.

As they transitioned into their final song of the evening, the audience kept time and exclaimed in glee as they sang along to “Helplessness Blues”. It was euphoric, hearing the crowd so joyfully sing along. The lights breathing yellow in time, triumphantly matching the swell into an epic outro, left the audience cheering for almost a minute straight. Wonderful, truly wonderful. 

By now, the packed Riverstage was definitely buzzing in the moonlight, ready to see The National. Many stood in attentive vigil, keenly watching the changeover. You could tell this was going to be special.

It wasn’t long before the audience bellowed, seeing the band take to the stage before bursting into “Eucalyptus”, from their 2023 album “First Two Pages Of Frankenstein” - an amazing opening song. 

Frontman Matt Berninger was immediately captivating. The crooner waltzed across the stage with intention, sure to put on a show no matter where you were standing.

Not surprisingly, The National’s live show was world class. Soul-stirring arrangements, purposely woven by each member, perfectly soundtracking their indie-melancholia. I was glad to see the trumpet and trombone included in the rock show, accompanying soaring guitars, synths and an undeniable rhythm section. 

Neon red filled the stage alongside a suspenseful e-bow guitar intro into “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. As soon as the iconic groove locked in, the crowd cheered loudly for one of their favourites. The capivating slow-burn built up beautifully to the final solo which was truly a powerfull moment. You could tell this is where they all feel at home, and it meant the world to them to be there. Audience and band alike. 

“Day I Die” brought a world of excitement as Matt entered the audience. Walking right by us, he determinedly weaved half way up the hill as fans excitedly greeted him. I’ve never seen better cable management than I did then. The crew guided the huge mic lead over the audience’s heads and making sure not to get lost or untethered. Impressively executed and an unforgettable memory for so many.

The audience showed their appreciation for the setlist of hits in a choir of Aussie accents. Sometimes singing, usually screaming, the amphitheater knew each song’s lyrics word for word.

The entire show felt sentimental, yet the most moving performance was left for last. “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, the final song of their encore, saw the band huddled closer together, swapping electric guitars for acoustics, horns stepping away from the mics. Matt turning his mic towards the audience. It says a lot about the impact of a band when they can call on their fans to sing a song for them. The entire song. It was a beautiful moment, as we all swayed and sung together for the last time.

Wandering back across the river in that familiar post-show glow, a wave of grateful chatter has replaced the earlier hum of traffic. Though we hope the years don’t pass so long before we see The National and Fleet Foxes in Brisbane again, it was definitely well worth the wait.

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