Literally Anyone Else: The National at Hill Auditorium

I try to be late and succeed for once. Courtney Barnett’s long gone by the time I get into my seat and that’s fine with me.

But let’s back up.

Potbelly’s. I go to Potbelly’s because I need to eat something substantial before going in. I don’t remember what I got. It was a sandwich. It was filling.

There’s a line around corner for will call. I intentionally parked on the other side of the city and walked all the way here, hoping the time spent walking would give the line time to dissipate. Oh, well.

I walk around the back and eat my sandiwch. The Ann Arbor Summer Festival is going on and there’s crowds of people in front of a stage set up on the north end of the Diag.

I walk around the clock tower and see him.

It’s Bryce Dessner. Or Aaron Dessner. Dressed in stylish blue, his hair is long and his face scruffy. He’s staring down at his phone, right there in the open next to the back door. The will call line around the sidewalk is less than 50 feet away and no one’s seeing him.

I want to go say hi but what if he’s a dick? Plus I’m sloppy with my Potbelly’s sandwich. I go around the corner and finish and swig my bottled water and check my appearance in the door reflections. I look normal.

I go back over but he’s gone. Shit.

I get in line.

I see two more members — Scott and Bryan Devandorf looking out from the back door near where a semi trailer is backed in. They look peeved at the line’s length, peeking out the door and making gestures, probably asking why the hell the will call line is so long this close to showtime.

Oh, to reach the point where human attention is cheap — the real American Dream.

The line moves relatively quickly.

“This will call?” ask the people behind me.

“I sure hope so,” I tell them.

“If you have hard copies you go around front,” says the person in front of me.

“Oh, we’re standing here like silly gooses,” says the girl behind me. She and her man go around front.

I get in. I’m on the balcony, almost at the top.

It’s incredibly steep. I almost get vertigo. I’m at the ceiling, almost able to touch it. Everything looks warped from here. When I stand up, I feel like the tallest man in the room.

The stage is crowded with equipment. There’s two sets onstage and two screens on either side. They show static-y things.

The sound echoes wonderfully up here, tho. There’s strange tribal electronic music playing on the sound system. The stage is smoky for some reason. An air of mystery, probably.

I think about the National, caught up on two-decade tide of human taste they created.

They appear and man their instruments. Matt Berninger’s first words are to introduce the female singer next to him.

“This is Zooey Randall from The Luke,” he says.

They open with You Had Your Soul With You and three other songs off their latest album.

Matt mentions his wife, Corinne, several times. One song is about him.

“Not a good thing,” says Matt.

Behind the band are giant organ pipes. Matt says the guy in charge hasn’t figured out how to tune them yet.

Bryan Devandorf, the drummer, who never talks at all, speaks about how he was born here in Ann Arbor and how he used to go to the Fuller park pool.

“Where were you conceived?” Matt asks. Bryan doesn’t know.

“You were conceived in this very theater,” says Matt. “On a night not unlike this one.”

They play Wasp Nest.

“Bryan was conceived under a wasp nest,” Matt says.

The girl in front of me has nasty BO.

They do Day I Die and Corinne at the Liquor Store, Matt jumps into the crowd, roadies adjusting the mic chord. They do a really old song called Son with the stage bathed in red.

No one claps for The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness.

Matt gives a setlist to a girl in the front row.

“That’s homework,” he says. “I expect that back tomorrow with answers.”

What’s going on?” he asks. The band starts the piano intro to Fake Empire.

“Oh yea, that’s going on. This is for America.”

They do a false start and have to start over. Too bad, that was a great intro by Matt.

The close the set proper with Rylan.

I’ve said all this before, but their music is clean. The Dessners are brilliant orchestrators, composers, indie compositions.

Their stripped-down sound sounds exquisite, crisp like the records

“This is for literally anyone else,” Matt says before Mr November.

UFOs get brought up somehow. Some news about the navy. Matt asks who believes in them. The place is so goddamn quiet.

“Don’t be fuckin shy, believers,” he says.

Someone in front row, probably the girl who got the setlist, made Matt a hat. She has him sign it.

“I will wear this forever,” he tells her.

They do Terrible Love, seizure lights flashing. Matt leaves the mic facing crowd.

His gangliness yells something at crowd without the mic, sounds angry.

It’s so quiet. The crowd sings back without amplification, Aaron plays acoustic, Bryan plays basic tamborine percussion.

Everyone does a beautiful Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. A capella choir. Nice.

Matt signs the wrist of a woman in front row and shakes a hand. He walks off wearing his new hat.

Everything is a work in progress.

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