With their recent seventh record inspiring an avalanche of respectful raves, it feels like the National and their abiding sense of emotional seriousness are finally being ushered into rock’s platinum club of all-time greats. On the first of two sold-out nights in Edinburgh, the veteran Ohio band certainly signal their faith in the new album Sleep Well Beast by rolling out 10 tracks from it. They include, in a brooding opening quartet, the surprisingly ear-splitting The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness, a forceful clatter of tom-toms and abrupt guitar barbs. Two songs in, and usually lugubrious frontman Matt Berninger is suddenly attacking the chorus with such intensity he seems in danger of blowing out his voice.
Combining artfully arranged angst with occasional afterburner blasts of volatility is what gives the National such a moreish charge. Now with almost two decades on the clock, they are a band tightly bound and driven by familial connections, with the Dessner twin brothers on guitars (and occasional keyboard) and the Devendorf non-twin brothers on bass and drums. Perhaps so as not to feel left out, Berninger composed the prickly, dysfunction-plumbing lyrics of Sleep Well Beast with his wife Carin, tonight hymned in Carin at the Liquor Store, a last-orders, dive-bar piano shanty that references John Cheever, someone else who knows a thing or two about exquisitely sketched vignettes of suburban unease.
Radiohead have often seemed like a useful reference point, and not just because both bands feature virtuosic brothers on guitar. The National similarly have no fear of the occasional tricksy time signature (the rueful, wrong-footing I Should Live in Salt is an early highlight) while their recent Kid A-style skittering beats have invited even more comparisons with the world’s reigning post-rock tragedians. But the mumbled, profane epiphanies of new song Walk It Back also bring to mind Arab Strap’s mix of gutter poetry and slithering electronics. The minor-key spiral Afraid of Everyone generates a seemingly unlikely moment of singalong community. On their way to a righteous four-song encore – climaxing with the agitated gospel of Terrible Love – the National wring every last drop of catharsis from their forlorn, furious canon.