The National knows how to make an indelible first impression in Tree Town.
The indie rock quintet enthralled a crowd of nearly 3,500 fans during their first headlining show June 25 at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium with Courtney Barnett.
It was their first appearance in Tree Town while supporting their latest and eighth studio release, “I Am Easy to Find,” which features memorable collaborations with notable female artists and musicians.
Bathed in brightly colored lights and flanked by two large screens displaying Impressionist-inspired artwork, The National opened their nearly two-hour set with “You Had Your Soul with You” and featured Dianne Berkun Menaker, founder and director of the Brooklyn Youth Choir, as a brilliant guest vocalist.
Lead vocalist Matt Berninger sipped a beverage from a red plastic Solo cup and joked with the audience throughout their set as twin brothers Aaron Dessner (guitar, bass piano) and Bryce Dessner (guitar, piano) cued up the band before each song.
The band performed several introspective masterpieces from their latest album, including “Quiet Light,” “The Pull of You,” “Hey Rosey,” “Oblivions,” “Light Years,” “I Am Easy to Find” and “Rylan,” while Berkun Menaker provided lush harmonies and background vocals that meshed beautifully with Berninger’s.
About halfway through their set, Berninger and drummer Bryan Devendorf engaged in friendly onstage banter. The introverted Devendorf spoke fondly about spending time in Ann Arbor before the band’s show. In response, Berninger joked with his quiet bandmate about finally speaking to the crowd.
“Are you going to say something, Bryan?” Berninger asked laughingly. “Let me give you my microphone … Bryan barely speaks, you guys.”
Devendorf proudly responded, “I visited a pool today called the Fuller Park Pool, it was fantastic, and right across the street is U-M hospital, am I correct? I was born there in 1975, so I’ve come full circle.”
The National also came full circle musically while performing past fan favorites ranging from “Bloodbuzz Ohio” to “Graceless” to “Fake Empire.” No National live show is complete without at least one or two timeless tracks from “High Violet” and “Boxer.”
The band closed the show with a four-song encore and featured Berninger jumping into the crowd and interacting with fans during “Mr. November.” It’s a highly anticipated moment from any longtime fan of The National.
A fan also presented Berninger with his own U-M baseball cap to wear toward the end of the night.
“Thank you for making this for me. I will wear this forever,” Berninger said. “You want me to sign it? I’m not giving this back to you.”
Hopefully, Berninger’s new cap will make it easy for fans to find The National in Ann Arbor again soon.
Courtney Barnett brought the best indie rock from Down Under to Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium.
The Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shared her powerhouse 45-minute opening set with an eager Tree Town crowd. Wearing a plain white T-shirt and black jeans, Barnett moved energetically on stage while effortlessly strumming guitar and interacting with the audience.
Bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mudie added gritty basslines to tracks from Barnett’s latest release, “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” and her 2015 debut album, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.”
Barnett played a handful of stellar tracks from “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” including “City Looks Pretty,” “Need a Little Time,” “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” and “Help Yourself.” All four tracks provided a true sampling of Barnett’s growing artistic talent that’s showcased throughout her latest album.
Barnett also bookended her memorable Ann Arbor opening set with fan favorites “Avant Gardener” and “Pedestrian at Best,” which share her dry sense of humor and distinctive, ironic song lyrics about everyday life.
Finally, she performed her latest catchy track, “Everybody Here Hates You,” toward the end of her Hill Auditorium set. Ironically, her current single’s title didn’t match the reaction from the crowd – they loved her.
In the meantime, Ann Arbor will eagerly await Barnett’s return next time as a headliner.