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Review: The National

Katie Hryce now knows what honest happiness feels like.

The Sydney Opera House Forecourt has witnessed some very special moments in music history and it’s just possible that having The National perform in full view of the sparkle of the harbour will, in time, be one of them.

The night was like any Sydney Saturday: a few too many beers in hand and belly, a sea breeze, and a monstrous (but happy) crowd. The great thing about the forecourt as a venue is that it has options. As a spectator you’ve got a choice — do you peacock upon the famed Opera House stairs? Or pack into the standing area where you can stand and sway away? I chose the latter, and all the better for it given singer Matt Berninger made his way into the crowd towards the end of their mammoth 23-song set.

To their credit, at no point did the set feel drawn out. This is perhaps testament to the band members’ age and solid experience. The National certainly know how to play to an audience and leave them wanting more (and crying), not less (and complaining). These Ohioan men of various middle-ages absolutely have the haunting and emotional market covered — indeed, Berninger’s voice alone conveys the ruminations of one of the most openly sad men on Earth — which was unexpectedly poetic set against the country’s most beautiful view.

The band made teenage cocktails as their aperitif (liberally mixing tequila and red bull onstage) and eventually smashed their way through to drinking red wine straight from the bottle. This aligned with the songs, jumping between new and old, upbeat and devastating. Conversation 16 and Squalor Victoria were back-to-back highlights, as was having the brass instruments play live. The post-encore applause spoke for itself.

On Sunday, my Instagram feed was awash with photos of Berninger’s time spent offstage with a sea of audience arms and faces pressed up against any free space on his body. A moment of honest happiness for both band and crowd, and a true experience to behold on the night as we all ran to greet our sombre hero.

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