The National in Paris: 15 years of concerts

Matthieu Lebeau
7 min readApr 12, 2019
The National / Point Ephémère — Paris 24 06 2013 ©ML

Hey The National, you’re launching your 2019 tour next week in Paris, with two concerts at the Café de la Danse and at the Olympia. I have tickets, it’s cool: I’ll see you there.
Especially for the Café de la Danse, it was tricky, I probably got the last available tickets. But I had to be there, that’s the way it is. I’m almost always there when you come to us. We’ve met a couple of times since 2005. You even played a concert at the Guinguette Pirate for my 27th birthday. Thank you! At the time, I lived near the subway station ‘Nationale’. A true fan, I told you. Obviously, after fifteen years following you, I have a few things to tell. Especially on your concerts. Because God knows how yours are good, and not just because you’re the craziest American band since Nirvana.
PS: why you? Just because I was too young for the Jacques Brel and Joy Division tours.

March 29th, 2005 — Black session n°230 Maison de la Radio

This is the last Black Session I’ve ever attended. And it is really by chance that I got a place: I accompany a friend at the drop of a hat, with whom we will often meet again later at your concerts. To be honest, I go because it’s free. Because it’s Bernard Lenoir. Because the listening conditions at the Maison de la Radio are great, the acoustics of the 105 are deadly, the seats are comfortable. The name of the group intrigues me: The National is like The Cure, a singular in which you always want to read a plural.

First piece: I raise my ears. Usually a great song is built on one catchy guitar line. But… here are two of them, played by two identical guitarists. Hi Aaron! Hi Bryce! For a long time, I thought you weren’t twins. All the wine: it’s delicate, it’s sophisticated and it moves. Interesting. A snare drum to send Secret Meeting and the bets are made. The staggering rhythm, Matt’s voice, the progressive rise and the backing vocals during the second part of the song: I’m not a tourist anymore, you turn me into a fan in 4 minutes. I’m waiting two weeks for Alligator to be released with all the melodies in my head. Well done!

The National / Trabendo & Guinguette Pirate - Paris 2005 ©ML

December 13th & 14th 2005 - La Guinguette Pirate

Late fall 2005. I love The National. Good news: the band is successful in France, but not really elsewhere. Things have changed a lot since then, good for you. You’re launching a rather improbable mini-tour around Paris, including a very cool concert at Le Trabendo, where one guitar ends up in the audience and another at Espace Michel Berger (I’m sure you don’t know who Michel Berger is), a kind of MJC in Sannois. The concert starts late, Matt is drunk and his voice stumbles on Lit up, but I have to get out before the encore, like half the audience so as not to miss the last RER.

And then there are the two “secret” concerts at La Guinguette Pirate. A shabby place : a bar-boat on the Seine. The second one is on December 14th, it’s my birthday, I’m 27 years old. I still wanted to thank you, it was a great gift. Opening act by the French band Tétard: Aaron plays guitar on Près du Pôle Nord. He also kisses one of the band’s girls at the bar after the concert. The facts are time-barred. The ship pitches. “You’re not drunk, it’s the boat”, Matt - himself undeniably drunk - makes the same joke 5 times per concert, every other night. But it’s still funny. The sound is horrible, there is no backstage, the band has to cross the crowd (it’s a big word, there must be 100 of us) to get on stage, moreover, there is no stage, the audience is at the level of musicians and stands wisely one meter from them.
It’s a little concert between friends, with huge songs, too powerful for this little harbour. Even Slipping Husband, an already ’old’ title at the time, makes everything blow, so when you play Abel or Daughters of the Soho Riots… You have to bring out a beautiful antiquity like Son to close the concert quietly and bring everyone back to earth. The lights come on again, you’re at the bar: there’s not many people around you. I could come and say hello, but I don’t want to disturb you, that’s who I am. I’m buying a T-shirt instead. How great were the green T-shirts from the Alligator era!

November 23th, 2010 - Olympia

Boxer. Fake empire. Barack Obama. You’ve grown up a lot since the Guinguette Pirate. A concert at La Maroquinerie in 2007: I think that’s all until summer 2010, the release of High Violet and the Zénith gig you open for Pavement. I liked Pavement when I was fifteen but well they should be the support act. I’m grumpy: three years without seeing each other is a long time. So I find your set a bit soft, a bit short. Besides, the Zenith sucks.

But 6 months later, you come back at the Olympia. At the time, I was still attend gigs in the pit. And as I arrive late with a pint in my hand, I spill some beer on my neighbor’s back. The guy turns around. He’s going to yell at me… but he’s actually smiling: we know each other, we’ve worked together for three years. Your concerts are really magical moments. Especially since it opens and ends in a monumental way. You start with Runaway. I still can’t believe it, you have to be ballsy to start a set with a song like that, this slow, hypnotic, completely depressive and splendid hymn. It’s crying around me. It’s the only time so far, I’ve ever heard it live. Friendly advice: play Runaway sometimes. For me. And then there’s the finale. The ultimate encore that has become a classic. Mr November with Matt in the audience and the wire from his microphone in my face. It hurts, I swear. And what do you play after that? Well, here is an awesome rendition of Terrible love. OK. You may have recorded two studio versions of it, but the track only sounds right live, without all the fanfreluches of the High Violet mix. It’s going up a notch. And then what? Can you turn the lights back on? Is it over? No, you come back again, you are ten on stage for Vanderlyle Crybaby Cry without microphone or amp. I’ve never seen or heard that before. You’re turning the Olympia into a church. Everyone sings. Me too, and I’m crying.

The National / Point Ephémère — Paris 24 06 2013 ©ML

June 24th, 2013 - Point Ephémère

I managed to get tickets for the father of all your concerts. From the beginning, this story smells very good: seeing you - you who are almost a stadium group now - in a tiny and very crappy venue. There are 300 places at the Ephemeral Point. And in this hangar, this quasi-garage with its approximate acoustics, that smells like beer, sweat and chips hosted the best concert since Woodstock. My wife is reluctant to come with me: I have to lie, ‘yes yes yes, there will be seats’. You play Secret Meeting, The Geese of Beverly road, I Need my girl 2 meters from me. It’s still too much on Mr November: Matt jumps into the pit, that is to say at the foot of the stage. I pat you on the shoulder, the maximum effusion I can get as a really reserved guy. I hope you remember that, Matt. Anyway, you leave the room to finish the song outside, right in front of the canal. And then you come back anyway to sing Vanderlyle with everyone, between us, like that. It lasts four minutes, it’s just music and emotion with the biggest American band. You also play the Zénith again in the fall; a less memorable gig.

The National / Point Ephémère — Paris 24 06 2013 ©ML

November 2, 2017 - Pitchfork Festival, Grande Halle de la Villette

I don’t like festivals. The sound is poor, the sets are short and the audience rarely interested. You are now touring all over the world but in France there are no other dates, except a concert at the 104 that I missed. So, no choice, I take my place for the Pitchfork, since it’s the only way to see you. You didn’t reconcile me with the festivals though: the round trip to the United States the day before was not a good idea. Jet lagged and drunk, you are necessarily less good, especially when you start playing late in a cold and windy hall.

We couldn’t stay on this: we’ll talk about it again after the concerts on April 15 and 16.



Matthieu Lebeau

Passionate about writing & storytelling, books, gaming, history, indie rock, books and Eastern Europe.