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Review: Jack Howard  Photos: Jason Rosewarne

On a glorious Melbourne evening, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl was happily expectant ahead of one of the most anticipated double bills of the year. Sydney artist Annie Hamilton was an inspired choice as opening act. Resplendent in bat wings and playing a splendid Fender Jazzmaster guitar,  she delivered a beautifully poised solo set Annie was also on standby for a surprise guest spot later in the evening.

I was curious to see how both Fleet Foxes and The National would translate the intimacy and depth of their records to the big  stage. I guess the entry point for Fleet Foxes is their unearthly layered harmonies (7 band members, 7 vocal mics!) but the band presented a rich and diverse sound and spectacle of mandolins, 12 string guitars, trombone, flutes, hofner and double basses. (But wait there’s more!) Robin Pecknold was a modest but mesmerising front man as the harmonies and horns weaved around him. In the end, as the daylight faded and the stage lights went up, they reached an ecstatic finale of Helplessness Blues that had the crowd on its feet.

The buzz in the air was that the last National show here was one of the greatest shows people had seen. In a lot of ways, they put on a pretty standard big rock show – the rhythm section hunkered down up the back, the Dessner brothers on twin guitars stepping out for solos and clap alongs and a (really great) trumpet and trombone horn section. Big dynamics. Singer Matt Berninger is the constant arresting focus. He’s an interesting stage presence, wandering around  like he’s singing to himself in a halting monologue. He spent half his time out in the crowd (with two roadies controlling the longest mic lead you’ve ever seen.), which of course, the punters absolutely loved. Set highlights included Bloodbuzz Ohio, Light Years, Fake Empire, Squalor Victoria and a beautiful acoustic version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks to finish. A brilliant night.

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