The National at Coachella, Day One.

By Chris Martins

Photos by Timothy Norris

The National were off to a strong start, but something wasn't right. The weather was just shy of idyllic; the band – expanded to seven with the addition of horns – was almost synced; the crowd was flirting with movement.

But singer Matt Berninger – dressed in black, looking in profile like a handsomer, whisky-soaked and wiry Philip Seymour Hoffman – seemed stricken by the audience's size. He'd grab his head like Thom Yorke, pained, reaching deep for those guttural man-pipes but coming back with a handful of nearly there. Then it happened. The sun hit the horizon and cast the crowd in orange, the white stage lights flared gilding the band in platinum, and Berninger swallowed whatever was in the cooling air, screaming to the scaffolding: “We're half-awake in fake empire!” He shredded his throat with abandon and, just like that, the baritone was there. Drums, guitar, bass, and voice hit an epic stride. The horns blazed. On the grass, ponytails flailed and feet moved. A guy in a sailor hat mouthed the wrong words. He'd probably never heard the song before.

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