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.

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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

‘Traveling Lady’ – Ann Arbor’s Judy Banker Honors Folk Music Hero Rosalie Sorrels in Idaho This Weekend

Ann Arbor’s Judy Banker will celebrate the musical legacy of folk icon Rosalie Sorrels in Idaho this weekend.

Judy Banker is ready to embark on a folk music pilgrimage of sorts.

The Ann Arbor Americana singer-songwriter will travel nearly 2,000 miles to perform at the Rosalie Sorrels First Annual Music Festival near Boise, Idaho this weekend.

As part of the inaugural festival’s lineup featuring Sista Sarah & Pocket of Bones and nearly a dozen other artists, Banker will celebrate the musical legacy of Sorrels at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park in Meridian, Idaho.

A beloved folk singer-songwriter who passed away in 2017, Sorrels has inspired Banker and a growing generation of folk, country and roots artists with her iconic music, storytelling and social activism. During her nearly half-century career, Sorrels recorded more than 20 albums, including the 2005 Grammy-nominated “My Last Go ‘Round.”

“I saw a post that her son Kevin had put on Facebook about how they were going to have a festival, and he was thinking of having it around his mother’s birthday, which was June 24,” Banker said. “She’s one of my heroes, so I thought, ‘How could it hurt? I’ll message him the link to my music, and I said if you’re opening it up for people to play, I’d love to play.’ At midnight or one in the morning that night, I got a ding on my phone, and he said, ‘Yes.’”

Flabbergasted, Banker immediately joined the lineup to support Kevin Sorrels and his family in honoring his mother’s memory and music. During the festival, Banker will perform a Saturday night closing set and cover several Rosalie Sorrels favorites, including “Baby Rocking Medley,” “If I Could Be the Rain” and “Traveling Lady.”

“I feel just this debt of gratitude and closing the show that night will be a real tribute to her. It just feels like I’m going to Mecca,” said Banker, who originally met Sorrels after one of her performances at The Ark more than 30 years ago. “I also would really love for Kevin to play guitar on one of her songs during my set.”

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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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‘Troix’ – Justin Vernon, Aaron Dessner Announce Eclectic Lineup for Third Installment of Eaux Claires

Justin Vernon, left, and Aaron Dessner perform during a Day of the Dead celebration at the second Eaux Claires festival in August 2016.

It’s time to return to the river in June.

The Stratton Setlist will attend the third installment of Eaux Claires, a two-day music festival curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner.

Known as “Troix,” the Eau Claire, Wisc.-based music festival announced its eclectic lineup of musical legends, indie rockers and emerging artists Thursday for the June 16-17 event at Foster Farms along the Chippewa River.

The lineup includes Bon Iver presenting John Prine & The American Songbook, which will feature several special guests paying tribute to country/folk singer-songwriter.

Another festival highlight will include Paul Simon collaborating with chamber ensemble yMusic to reinterpret his iconic songs with contemporary classical music.

The lineup also features Feist, Sylvan Esso, Wilco, Tweedy, Chance The Rapper, Danny Brown, Perfume Genius, This Is The Kit and more.

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Stratton Setlist Snapshot: Eaux Claires Day 2 Celebrates Day of the Dead

Eau Claire, Wis. — The second day of Eaux Claires celebrated the legacy of The Grateful Dead with a special “Day of the Dead” tribute.

Led by Aaron and Bryce Dessner from The National, the first ever “Day of the Dead” tribute featured Will Oldham, Phosphorescent, Jenny Lewis, Bruce Hornsby, Ruban Nielson, Lucius, Matt Berninger and others.

The Dessner brothers assembled the five-disc “Day of the Dead” tribute album over four years to raise money for the AIDS/HIV organization Red Hot. An LP boxed set will be released Sept. 9.

The setlist included “Sugaree,” “Black Muddy River,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Shakedown Street,” “Brokedown Palace” and other Dead favorites.

Besides the “Day of the Dead” tribute, other notable day 2 performances included Alpha Consumer, Mavis Staples, Lewis, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Lucius and Beach House.

Eaux Claires Music Festival Brings Emerging Talent, Legends to Upper Midwest

I can’t imagine a better place for a music festival than the upper Midwest.

Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s wide open spaces and rolling green pastures are a welcome relief from the cramped city parks and perfectly manicured polo fields.

The rural Wisconsin city is also reminiscent of my own hometown, which is actually about 560 miles away near Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Luckily, I have Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner to thank for my two-day Midwestern musical escape along the Chippewa River to Eaux Claires, an indie music rock festival situated in Eau Claire.

The festival boasts some of the most popular names in indie rock – Bon Iver, Beach House, Jenny Lewis, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, James Blake and Phosphorescent – and many emerging artists ranging from Little Scream to Tuskha to Alpha Consumer.

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