It’s been 15 months since The National hit the road to promote their break-through album High Violet. Tonight they played their last headline show on European soil for “a long time” and judging by what was at times a sluggish and fairly routine performance, the Brooklyn quintet could do with a rest.

Tonight they showed glimpses of what they’re capable of, most notably during Abel, Mr November and the frenzied climax of Squalor Victoria. However poor sound and a lack of energy from the band, and in particular their usual driving-force frontman Matt Berninger, meant ultimately it was a solid rather than spectacular display.

Watch the Video for The National’s Abel

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The last time The National played the Academy they supported Editors. In the four years since, the Brooklyn-based five-piece has gone from strength to strength, releasing two more critically-acclaimed albums, the most recent of which was this year’s High Violet.

Not surprisingly anticipation levels were extremely high before the band trooped on stage, but sadly a combination of hollow sound, a new-material-heavy set list and an at times tired delivery meant overall it was a disappointing display.

All The Wine was the worst affected by sound deficiencies, the song reduced to a shadow of its usual glorious self while the bulk of material from High Violet lacked depth.

Conversation 16 was the pick of the new songs but for sheer potency and the sight of singer Matt Berninger working his way through the Academy crowd to deliver his vitriolic barrage from the sound desk, it was Mr November that stole the show.

An eventful encore saw the band debut a new track, a piano-led slow-burner, then round things off with an a capella rendition of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks – a nice idea in theory but one which in practise proved patchy.

As gig experiences go tonight’s performance was something just a little bit special, a little bit out of the ordinary, but then what else do you expect from the driving force behind sonic pioneers Sigur Rós.

In a regular show the visual aspect usually seems like an afterthought – lights flash, random videos are projected but nothing ties them to the performance. How refreshing it was then tonight to bear witness to a set where the marriage of music and the visual element not only augmented the overall experience, but ultimately made it.

Jónsi, with the help of his multi-instrumental backing band, didn’t have to make concessions to the crowd either – it was ten songs in before the singer shyly said “hi” – instead dark sprawling soundscapes peppered with his distinctive falsetto vocals took the crowd on a journey, leaving them speechless in the process – for over 20 seconds during one extended mid-song break.

Save for the odd deviation into Euro-pop territory it was a truly captivating show and one which climaxed majestically with bewitching final number Grow Till Tall.

WOLFMOTHER
Academy, Glasgow, January 14                  * * *

While hardly ground-breaking, Wolfmother certainly made an impact with their eponymous debut back in 2006. Paying homage to 70s heavyweights Zeppelin, Sabbath et al, the trio made up for a lack of originality with infinitely catchy riffs and a potent live show. Back with a new album – Cosmic Egg – and a new line-up after co-founding members Chris Ross and Myles Heskett left for “irreconcilable personal and musical differences”, on tonight’s evidence the change in personnel has hindered rather than helped  singer/guitarist  Andrew Stockdale’s attempts at rock-world domination.
What we got tonight was a somewhat bloated set full of noodling guitar and disjointed songs. Alongside crowd favourites like Dimension, Joker and the Thief and Woman, most new material felt flimsy and somewhat cluttered.
In essence a one-man show, with Stockdale’s three hired hands adding little compared to their predecessors, it was a night that failed to dazzle and one where support band The Black Angels easily outshone their big-riffing tour-mates.