Monday, February 10, 2014
the national at the sidney myer music bowl
Sunday dawned into a bright hot forty degree day, and my eyes still hurt from the day before, crying and then sitting in front of the air conditioner, all my moisture leached from my face. I took my headache into work, and it was fixed slightly by coworkers trying pressure points and three of us pitching in to buy the biggest serving of hot chips from the sushi place across the road to eat upstairs in the kitchen (we called it "a managerial conference about salt"); I took all the crispy ones and they didn't even fight me for them. Still, when I left, the headache was there, at the front of my forehead. I still had to get home, clean, facilitate two babysitter changeovers, then get ready to go out for our date, and it was one of those days when those very simple things seemed unexpectedly hard.
At six thirty we were on the train. It was quiet, and the heat had mostly left the city, though still stagnated in warm corners without airflow. We were alone together, and there was no one between us to yell for food or ask us to read Dr Seuss' Hop on Pop over and over again. We got to talk about work, and about our days, and about his band and my committee, and we got to hold hands. We ate Lord of the Fries in the Alexandra Gardens and watched the slow migration of humans from Flinders Street Station to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, before walking alongside them.
I'd never been before; I couldn't even place it in on the map in my head. It's so big, I couldn't believe I'd missed it. I poured water out of my bottle over the fence and we went in, snaked our way through the picnic blankets set up on the grass, and found a patch of grass. Usually, we get to gigs early, and I go straight to the front. It's the curse of the five-two adult; someone taller is always in front of me anyway. This time, even though Chris said we could go find a spot by the fence, I was happy to stay further back. The crew setting up were far away enough to be featureless, but it had never mattered less. The sky was clear, the temperature just cool enough to make me idly wish I'd worn an extra layer but not so cold that I could justify spending eighty dollars on a hoodie from the merchandise stall. We nudged up against one another and listened to Luluc, the support band, watching them on the screens set up on either side as they filled me with mellow. I went and got us some Cokes, thought about a pizza, or banh mi, or anything - the whole concept of food vans at a gig was new and dizzying, but I was in that kind of mood, where the smell of smoked garlic was enough to make me giddy just about everything. And Melbourne was putting on her best face, the buildings lighting up the sky, the moon three-quarters-full and centred directly above the stage, bats flying overhead, and everyone around us was beautiful, every single person, even me. The people in front of us had brought a picnic with corn chips, crackers, dip, jaffa cakes, chocolate wheatens. I considered giving them two dollars for a handful of chips, maybe making some new friends.
Eight thirty, and The National took the stage. Everyone stood up. They were tiny, and the sound was big. I had to Google the setlist, right now, to see what they played, and I looked at that list and couldn't remember all the moments that broke into me. I love The National, more than almost any band, but I can't tell you the names of their songs, even though I can sing them, even though they don't always make sense. I know they sang everything I wanted them to. I know that I almost cried when they performed Demons from Trouble Will Find Me; I know that when Matt Berninger hollered Squalor Victoria that I almost burst out of my skin. I know that I couldn't remember loving Melbourne as much as I did when we all sang along, even when everyone sang that we were evil to Conversation 16, but especially when everyone closed their eyes and turned Bloodbuzz Ohio into something new, and when it ended, as it had last time we saw them, with an acoustic singalong to Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. There were times when songs ended with me applauding hard and then hitting Chris excitedly on the arm. When I was a kid, I used to express joy by flapping my arms like a bird (now let us all never mention this again), and this was full of moments where, for the first time in a while, I had to hold onto something - Chris, my pockets, my drink - to prevent the urge from breaking through.
I couldn't sustain the heightened emotion for the entire two hours. During a spate of songs that weren't my favourites I started looking around, thinking of getting a cider, wishing people wouldn't smoke, measuring by city skyscrapers where the moon had moved to, losing the moment that I had immersed myself in so much. Then there was England, and everyone was singing again, and I was too, and the trumpet player belted out an incredible solo and the notes cut me into pieces. There was more, there was a lot, there was dusk and night and stars, not many because it's the city and the state was on fire, but they were bright and they were there, and by the end of it everything had been solved, all my problems were over, and all my sorrows were left behind on the grass with the crushed Heineken cans and banh mi wrappers.
As we sat together on the train home, humming songs and swapping gifs we'd found on the internet, I finally noticed that my headache had gone.