The National – Spark Arena: February 24, 2024 (Concert Review)

The National returned to Auckland after a six year absence. The 13th Floor’s Oxford Lamoureaux and Chris Zwaagdyk find out if it was worth the wait.

Seeing The National last night was a pleasant surprise. I’d once again heard great things without too much of a background on them, running along to the gig at the recommendation of another wonderful human being and being very thankful I did.

The NationalThe National was formed in New York City in 1999 and has seemingly absorbed every past and present indie rock-misery artist since – but obviously in the best sort of way – as I found my internalised comparisons flicking between Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, The Pixies and, perhaps strangest, U2 throughout their endurance test of a two-hour set.

Opening with the soft vocal intro and piano of Once Upon a Poolside and the rolling drums of Eucalyptus, I had my first of the grand, epic U2 comparisons, with lead singer Matt Berninger warming his voice to the crowd as literal musical twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner (guitars) began warming their strings for the later sections of the show as well.

I wasn’t immediately taken aback by the performance, it felt like nice and polite indie rock, almost a little too clean and predictable, but the combined bass and drum combo of brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf (respectively) was just irresistible enough to keep me eager for more. New Order T-Shirt followed with its restrained percussion and wonderfully macabre ash rain visuals displayed behind the band, before Don’t Swallow the Cap raised the tempo and the energy, and I started seeing the eccentric movements of 90s Jarvis Cocker in Berninger’s stage movements and performance.

The NationalBloodbuzz Ohio and The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness started the set’s transition toward the greater crescendo building numbers, as the majority of the songs began to melt long, distorted electric guitar solos and the complex wall of drums and bass for what felt like minutes at a time. Berninger’s voice is probably an acquired taste, but one I quickly fell in love with, his ability to dance between sombre, deeper vocals and laddish Oasis drawl is incredible, without even mentioning his incredible higher range and vocal endurance.

Around the middle of the set, following on from the collapsed-lung screaming potential of Alligator, the band performed Alien, drawing me further into their sound beneath the beautifully deep bass, dreamy drifting guitar riffs and its softer but persistent beat. The latter half of the set also saw Berninger walk from the stage and into the crowd, singing without missing a beat or dropping a note too heavily, guided by a lone security guard and magically lassoed by the world’s most dedicated stage technician.

These wilder, more playful moments complemented the later weight of Pink Rabbits, a beautiful Tom Waits-meets-Elton John authentic heartache of piano, before England, Graceless, and the exceptional stadium-shaker Space Invader closed out the initial set.

It’s almost a shame the gig didn’t begin with that energy – clearly there’s a natural rhythm to the flow of a set when you’ve been playing together for more than 20 years, but it felt a little safe at times, a bit too rehearsed. This isn’t to fault the gig overall, as it was easily one of the more politely attended concerts at Spark Arena I’ve been to in recent memory, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the show that the crowd’s energy began to match the rising noise from the stage.

The National

But I digress and, when you play 2-plus hours of music to a crowd and leave everyone in a pleasantly buoyant mood, there’s very little to fault in a band that can deliver such a unique combination of sounds that feel so recognisable. Closing out with an encore that included the Weird Goodbyes, Mr. November, and Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, it did quite possibly the best thing an indie rock gig can do; added another band to my infinite playlists, and inspired me to revisit some of the classic artists I love in that genre, carrying the tangible excitement of the experience long after the hum of bass and electric guitars has faded.

Oxford Lamoureaux

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Chris Zwaagdyk:

The National:



The National Setlist

Once Upon a Poolside


Tropic Morning News

New Order T-Shirt

Don’t Swallow the Cap

Bloodbuzz Ohio

The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

I Need My Girl

Slow Show

Apartment Story

Conversation 16



Laugh Track

Smoke Detector

Day I Die

Pink Rabbits



Fake Empire

Space Invader


Weird Goodbyes

Mr. November

Terrible Love

About Today

Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks