Concert Review: Neutral Milk Hotel

I remember hearing Neutral Milk Hotel after downloading their song “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” on a whim from the “artists you might like” on itunes. I didn’t actually listen to it right then and there, but rather added it to a playlist of songs to listen to on, coincidently enough, an airplane. I was sixteen and going to visit family in Ireland. After a rather awful 5 hour delay (Newark Airport sucks), I sat down in my cramped window seat and pressed play on my light pink ipod. What happened next changed my life forever.

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The song itself is a very basic G-Em-C-D chord progression (which is actually the same chords for Ace of Bases’ “The Sign”, but that’s not important) but the vocal imagery and arrangement is a giant punch in the face that immediately left me wanting more. As soon as I got back from vacation, I bought the CD and played it over and over. I don’t even think it plays anymore, to be honest.

Neutral Milk Hotel is not a well-known band unless you are a hipster/pretentious music snob/or you notice many bands in the alternative indie set list them as a huge influence. When I told people I was going to see them, most had never even heard of them and one even asked if they were ska.

The band itself has only had two LP’s and the last one, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was released in 1998. The band has yet to record another full-length album and the lead singer, Jeff Mangum, has lead a very quiet and reclusive life. Do not expect to find much information about him since he has only done maybe a handful of interviews since the release of their first album (1996’s On Avery Island).

Imagine my surprise when I received an email announcing the return of NMH. I excitedly (and by that, I mean I practically screamed) told my boyfriend we needed tickets immediately. I won’t bore you with the process of getting these tickets, but I can let you know that the first show sold out in minutes and my boyfriend and both of his parents were all refreshing the screen in hopes of securing two tickets. When Jeremy let me know he had managed to get them, I was on vacation in Virginia and had to explain, in between bouts of ecstatic jumping up and down, that I had secured these golden tickets to one of the most important shows I will ever have the pleasure of going to.

Fast forward almost 6 months later, and I can tell you that NMH did not disappoint. The theatre was filled to the brim with the hipster elite and no matter where you looked, you were guaranteed to find dark-rimmed glasses, flannel+scarf combo and beards. I’m pretty sure even the females had beards. Fellow labelmates, Elf Power, opened with their catchy psych-rock tunes and got the crowd prepared for NMH. While I thought they were particularly fantastic, you could tell the majority of the crowd were raring for the headliners. It was almost a pity that people seemed more interested in hanging out in the lobby area and doing coke near the bathrooms (yes, people were doing coke at a Neutral Milk Hotel concert) than actually enjoying music they paid top dollar to see, even if it wasn’t the main attraction.

When NMH finally did come on, a lone Jeff Mangum walked out with just a guitar and broke into a beautiful version of “Two-Headed Boy”. People immediately stood up and remained standing for the rest of the show. As soon as the song was finished, the rest of the band came out and seamlessly (like right off the album) went right into the instrumental track “The Fool”. Really, that’s when I started getting chills because it sounded just like the album’s version. Honestly, the whole concert was pitch perfect. Even the musical saw sounded just like it did on the album! There was little chit-chat from Mr. Mangum to the crowd, which I expected, but it seemed like he was actually enjoying playing for us. You could feel the love all around!

My only complaint was the order of the songs. I wish that they wouldn’t have done all the fan favorites first because it slightly killed the suspense of waiting for “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” or “Oh Comely” (probably their most popular songs off the album), but at the same time, I can cross seeing them off of my bucket list. It was a beautiful night and, to be completely honest, I shed a tear or two.

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