The National is riding high on their recent album, High Violet, which has been generally well received by both critics and the public at large. So, it might seem natural to do a bit of a victory lap by releasing a downloadable collection of eight songs that the band recently played at the iTunes Festival in London, part of a month-long series of shows iTunes has been putting on at the Roundhouse Club. (Post-concert, iTunes has been making key live sets available afterward as a downloadable EP to the public.) The bulk of the songs on this short online album naturally are from High Violet, but the band dips into the back catalogue for a couple of tunes from 2007’s Boxer (“Brainy” and “Mistaken for Strangers”) and a track, “Available”, from 2003’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers.
As a set, it’s a bit of a hodge-podge, and doesn’t have the genius of sequencing that made High Violet such a potent album. (It opens with “Anyone’s Ghost”, which is one of the weaker tracks from said LP—though weaker is a bit of subjective adjective considering how strong the record is as a whole.) Listening to this truncated collection of songs performed in front of an enthusiastic audience makes it quite clear that the National are due for a proper live release. Matt Berninger’s vocals have never been so clear and crisp yet anguished at the same time as he strains over his words, the band has never been captured on tape performing so viscerally and with raw, tenable power, and the songs have never been so adorned with strings and horns which act as a layer of delectable squalor.
It’s a live EP that leaves you breathlessly wanting more. A cautionary note for American fans who might be salivating at the prospect of downloading this album though: according to the website of the band’s label, 4AD, this collection is not available in the U.S. What’s the point of not making this available to fans in the band’s home country? Instead of crowd noise and applause, some fans might want to yell out a hardy “Boo! Hiss!” in its place. Too bad, as this is a pretty fine souvenir—even if you weren’t there.