The National, Courtney Barnett Deliver Memorable First Performances at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium

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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.

Continue reading “The National, Courtney Barnett Deliver Memorable First Performances at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium”

The National, Courtney Barnett to Play First Ann Arbor Show Tuesday Night at U-M’s Hill Auditorium

The National will perform Tuesday night at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium in support of  their latest album, “I Am Easy to Find.” Photo by Graham MacIndoe

The National will be easy to find Tuesday night at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium.

The indie rock quintet will perform their first headlining show at the University of Michigan’s 106-year-old, 3,500-seat auditorium in support of their latest and eighth studio release, “I Am Easy to Find.”

Presented by AEG and The Ark, it’s the latest stop on The National’s current 20-date North American tour with special guest Australian indie rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Courtney Barnett. The band last performed in Michigan at Detroit’s Mo Pop Festival in July 2018.

The National’s Matt Berninger (vocals) along with twin brothers Aaron Dessner (guitar, bass, piano) and Bryce Dessner (guitar, piano) and brothers Scott Devendorf (bass) and Bryan Devendorf (drums) will showcase new introspective songs tinged with dark, melancholy lyrics from their critically-acclaimed 16-track album, which dropped May 17 on 4AD.

The follow-up to 2017’s GRAMMY-award winning release, “Sleep Well Beast,” “I Am Easy to Find” features The National’s latest singles, “You Had Your Soul with You,” “Light Years” and “Hairpin Turns,” and harnesses their signature indie rock sound filled with driving guitars, eloquent pianos and pulsating bass and drum lines.

Interestingly, the album includes a short companion film with the same name and music by The National. Inspired by “I Am Easy to Find,” the film was directed by Academy Award-nominated director Mike Mills (“20th Century Women,” “Beginners”) and stars Academy Award Winner Alicia Vikander, who’s also featured on the album’s cover.

Along with the band, Mills co-produced “I Am Easy to Find,” which was mostly recorded at Long Pond, Aaron Dessner’s residential studio in upstate New York along with additional sessions in Paris, Berlin, Cincinnati, Austin, Dublin, Brooklyn and other far-flung locations.

The album also features beautiful collaborations with several notable female vocalists, including Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan, Gail Ann Dorsey, Mina Tindle and Kate Stables.

Both individually and collectively, The National’s members have been involved in countless artistic, charitable and socio-political pursuits. The group released “A Lot of Sorrow” documenting their collaboration with installation artists Ragnar Kjartansson that took place at MOMA’s PS1 and saw the band play their song “Sorrow” for six hours in front of a live audience.

The National are also behind the Red Hot benefit albums, “Dark Was The Night” and “Day Of The Dead,” and the compilation boxed set titled “7-Inches for Planned Parenthood.”

In 2013, the band saw the theatrical release of their documentary, “Mistaken for Strangers,” set to the backdrop of their 2010 release, “High Violet.” During their 16-year career, The National has sold more than 2 million albums in the U.S. alone.

Courtney Barnett

Australian indie rock singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett will open for The National at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium Tuesday night. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

As for The National’s special guest, Barnett will make her first Ann Arbor appearance in support of her second album, 2018’s “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” which “takes your vulnerabilities and everything that scares you and twists them until they fit into someone else’s hands.”

For her latest album and follow-up to 2015’s “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” Barnett’s writing is focused on the internal. She’s turned her gaze inward to study how the world and people in it are affecting her.

Listening to “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” it’s easy to imagine Barnett figuring out, song by song, how to orient herself and remain steady in a place that’s rapidly shifting around her.

Last month, Barnett released a new single and video for “Everybody Here Hates You.” Recorded in late 2018 during a break in her “Tell Me How You Really Feel” world tour, “Everybody Here Hates You” is the closest Barnett has ever come to capturing the extraordinary weight and swagger of her live performance on a recording. The track is a blues-tinged behemoth with squalling guitars, organs and tambourines.

Following the release of her latest album, Barnett went on to play sold-out rooms and packed festivals worldwide. Over the course of just a few years, Barnett has become internationally renowned for her witty, ironic and distinctive song lyrics.

She’s won the Australian Music Prize, J Award for Album of the Year, APRA’s Songwriter of the Year and four ARIA Awards. Barnett has worked on music with Jack White, The Breeders and Jen Cloher as well as releasing the 2017 masterful collaboration, “Lotta Sea Lice,” with indie rock singer-songwriter Kurt Vile.

Show details:

The National with special guest Courtney Barnett

8 p.m. Tuesday

University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium, 825 N. University Ave. in Ann Arbor

Tickets: $59.99 for main floor and mezzanine, $45 for balcony

Homecoming — The National Hosts Inaugural 2-day Music Festival in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI — Indie rock giants The National returned to their stomping grounds to host the inaugural two-day Homecoming music festival this weekend at Smale Park with Feist, Big Thief, Father John Misty as well as other emerging rock and alternative artists.

Along with Wilco, Bon Iver and The Decemberists, The National is part of a growing wave of indie rock artists who are curating their own music festivals for fans. It’s a way to provide music lovers with a more intimate experience in comparison to the larger likes of Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.

Homecoming truly felt like The National had returned to their roots with two special performances each night. Saturday’s set featured selections from “Sleep Well Beast,” “Trouble Will Find Me,” “High Violet” and “Alligator.” Sunday’s set featured 2007’s “Boxer” in its entirety and the debut of the band’s newest song, “Light Years.”

Bryce and Aaron Dessner also treated fans to a special performance at the Cincinnati Masonic Center Friday night to demonstrate their guitar prowess as part of Red Bird Hollow and celebrate the release of German electronic duo Mouse on Mars’ latest album, “Dimensional People.”

Lisa Hannigan, Spank Rock, Sam Amidon and Kristin Anna joined the Dessner twins and Mouse on Mars to kick off the first night of the festival.

Fans also enjoyed riveting performances by Lord Huron, Julien Baker, Future Islands, Moses Sumney, Alvvays and other talented artists.

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Into the Groove — Berninger Embraces Funky Side with EL VY’s ‘Return to the Moon’

I quickly grabbed a pen and scribbled down “The National” on a piece of scrap paper in my grape purple music room.

I looked at the name with a quizzical expression and said to my brother, “Who are they?”

“You just need to check them out. They’re an awesome band,” he said.

Five years ago, my brother affectionately dubbed me his musical “Padawan” since he was a “Jedi Master” teaching me in the ways of indie music.

It was part of his mission to convert me to an indie music fan, and it was working. After three Bonnaroos and two Lollapaloozas, I was getting closer to becoming an indie music “Jedi Master.”

My musical curiosity grew exponentially in 2010, and that’s when I first picked up The National’s “High Violet” album. With the songs, “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Terrible Love,” “Anyone’s Ghost” and “Afraid of Everyone,” the album quickly became one of my favorites.

Continue reading “Into the Groove — Berninger Embraces Funky Side with EL VY’s ‘Return to the Moon’”