THE NATIONAL, O2 Arena – Evening Standard, 27 Nov 2014

Six albums into a slow-burning career, The National had their O2 moment last night — the final show of an epic worldwide tour that probably didn’t see them officially becoming an arena act but was a welcome cherry on top of a long slog.

It was also their Oscars moment, thanking everyone from their record label (who discovered this Brooklyn-based, Ohio-born quintet in London) to Sufjan Stevens, an indie emperor in his own right who joined them on keyboards and backing vocals this evening and heard a snippet of his song Chicago aired in tribute.

All very touching but in truth this wasn’t the venue for them. They’re an arms folded, slowly weeping kind of band, ideal for sitting in a theatre drinking in every word of Matt Berninger’s wise, careful lyrics. Abstract, fizzy visuals and a sound that had volume but little power distracted from a surplus of remarkable songs.

They still managed their signature moves, with Berninger vanishing far into the vast crowd during Terrible Love. Even the traditional unamplified sing-song during Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks was pulled off by standing a little further back from the microphones.

Unlike Elbow, who as late blooming treasures could be considered their British counterparts, they are still missing that undeniable anthem to unite such a huge audience. Perhaps they’re too smart and prickly for that.

Their finest songs, such as Mr November and Mistaken for Strangers, are about failures and the doomed — not apt subjects for such a celebratory evening, but in an understated way, celebrate we did.