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We’re pretty spoilt here in Bristol with the amount of gigs we get but now and again we get missed out. Granted The National played at the Anson Rooms a couple of years back and they returned again at the tail end of last year but they’re so goddamn good, they leave you thirsty for more. Then we have the wonderful Wye Oak. We first caught sight and sound of them at End of the Road Festival a couple of years ago but the US duo are yet to play a date in Bristol, much to our disappointment. So, when we heard that both groups were embarking upon a mini tour of Scotland we headed straight onto the Easyjet website and boy did it live up to it’s name. Not only did I manage to book straight onto the one hour flight to Glasgow on day of the gig, returning the following day, but it cost me less than half the price of a return train ticket to London – just £48 return. Add to that the £25 for a hotel room and all in all this was a pretty bargainous, and most definitely easy, affair.

Without wanting to belittle our very own O2 Academy here in Bristol, their Glasgow counterpart is possibly the best O2 Academy I’ve ever been to. Situated in one of the less busy areas of town, it’s a destination venue. From the outside, it’s pretty uninspiring but inside it’s like a cool, mini opera house. Like Brixton O2 Academy, it’s really easy to get to the front and enjoy uninterrupted views of the bands. Granted the booze is the standard fare or lager or Gaymers but you can’t have it all hey?! They are pretty strict on their videoing policy and the security staff had their work cut out telling people to stop filming. A shame really as I’d like to have relived some of the moments from this gig.

Wye Oak seemed genuinely thrilled to be touring with The National and conceded that while people didn’t yet know their music, hopefully they would grow to like it. And why the hell not. Singer Jenn Wasner has that effortless Ritzy from Joy Formidable air about here, and that’s not where the similarities end (especially now that she too has blond hair and a fringe). Her sassy, rich vocals and impressive guitar playing make for a mesmerising performance; but as amazing as Jenn is, perhaps it is her team mate Andy Stack who deserves a bigger chunk of the spotlight. He single handedly provides the backbone to the set with his impeccable drumming, understated keys and sporadic drum machine accompaniment. Combine the two with their haunting songs and we have ourselves one of the most compelling breakthrough bands of the year. Think Radiohead melancholia combined with the raw energy of Nirvana cemented with some honey-toned vocals a la She Keeps Bees/PJ Harvey. If you haven’t yet heard their recently released album, Civilian, go forth and check it out. It is simply divine. From the opening track, Holy Holy, through the wonderful Hot As Day to the final track, That You Do, Wye Oak had the audience by the balls. The word support just doesn’t do them justice.

Where Wye Oak left off, The National picked up with possibly the most perfect setlist. Tracks from the most recent album High Violet slotted in perfectly with songs from the previous two albums Boxer and Alligator. The 7-strong troupe came on stage looking very dapper, frontman Matt Berninger sporting a smart waistcoat and several weeks worth of facial fuzz. Spines were tingling from the offset, with the opening track Start A War, followed by album-mate Mistaken for Strangers then the stark but heartwrendhing Anyone’s Ghost and recent single Bloodbuzz Ohio. Berninger’s barritone vocals and inspirational lyrics have the power to bore holes straight into your soul. And where in the past, Berninger has stolen the show, here bandmates Aaron and Bryce Dessner took some of the limelight with their beautiful guitar playing delivered with captivating quirks (you could set your clock by Bryce’s head shaking). Months and months of touring has taken it’s toll on the group a little, with Berninger letting out a couple of coughs and the odd yawn during Afraid of Everyone and exclaiming that this would be their last European show for a while. Boo indeed.

Unsurprisingly (due to the fact we were in Scotland), the song England was greeted with a lone cheer, but even the Scots could appreciate the beauty of this one. And he rewarded the open mindedness with one of their best songs, Fake Empire. The whole show was pretty much a highlight of itself and included plenty of new material, including Lemonworld and Sorrow, much to the pleasure of the fans who’d seen them in Glasgow just a year ago. Berninger joked that he’d broken a lot of microphone stands, presumably with his signature move of throwing it down during some of the louder numbers such as Mr November and Squalor Victoria, and that this was the last one left. True to form he almost smashed it during one of the final songs of the set, Terrible Love. But what most people will remember from this gig is the truly awesome acoustic rendition of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. Despite having showcased this version in gigs across Europe, it felt like a truly special moment for everyone – the whole band stood at the front of the stage, swaying and leading the most heartwarming singalong ever.

Words and photos: Laura Williams