Neutral Milk Hotel Back In Action; First Show Of Tour “Stunning”

Jeff Mangum performing in January of this year (2013) in Houston.
Jeff Mangum performing in January of this year (2013) in Houston.

The indie art-rock band Neutral Milk Hotel returned to the stage after a 15-year absence and delivered a “stunning show,” according to Roger Hartley, a fan who was in the audience. The first performance of the group’s world tour took place in Baltimore’s 2640 Space at St. John’s Church Friday night (Oct. 11, 2013). Photos and recording were not allowed but a fan shot the video clip at the top of this post.

Jeff Mangum, the band’s idiosyncratic leader, “stepped out under the lights looking like he’d been holed up in a fire lookout cabin for a decade,” according to Jasper Colt, a long-time fan who posted a review of the show on his blog.

“Mangum’s face was covered in a long beard and his hair hung down to his shoulders,” John Gentile reported at Rolling Stone. “Even his eyes were obscured by the shadows cast from the brim of his cap.” Gentile also noted: “Although Mangum’s voice has dropped slightly since the release of the 1998’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, it has also become much more rich and much more powerful.”

“The setting was perfect,” Jasper Colt wrote in his blog post. “The nave of the quaintly dilapidated Saint John’s Church in the Charles Village neighborhood is known simply as 2640 Space, and comes complete with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows.”

The hour and a half, 18-song set began with “Two-Headed Boy” and “The Fool,” and ended with “Engine.” Neutral Milk Hotel performed songs off both albums, 1996′s On Avery Island and 1998′s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and from their 1994 EP, Everything Is. The group played no new material. Elf Power was the show opener.

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“Thankfully, they kept the stage banter to a bare minimum and stuck to what they do best, covering a good portion of their catalog in the ninety minute set,” Colt, a Washington, D.C.-based photographer wrote. “Each carefully orchestrated masterpiece rang true with the full ensemble of brass, percussion, keyboards and singing saws. There were a few issues with the sound system, but these were easily forgiven in the excitement. The real highlight of the show, for my money, was the haunting sincerity of Mangum’s voice that first drew me into his recordings. Time may have taken its toll on the walls of this old nave, but his sweet and familiar tone remains unscathed.”

“Throughout the show, multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster was as much a centerpiece as Mangum,” Gentile of Rolling Stone wrote. “While Mangum held onto his guitar for the entire set, Koster constantly shifted between instruments, even in the middle of songs, going from the accordion to a banjo to a handsaw played with a bow. That handsaw added the spooky whirl in the background of ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ and witnessing the carpentry tool live in action was quite a sight.”

“All musicians and songs were tight,” Hartley wrote. “Loved Scott Spillane singing words to every song to himself as he awaited horn parts…incredible drums…and Julian Koster playful as ever. The stunning silence of the audience between songs was remarkable. Something I’ve never seen or heard after years of shows. Each anticipating the next and unwilling to do anything to break the warmth in that room. I saw more emotions in one place. Glee … Tears… Excitement…even a little dancing.”

Setlist:

Two-Headed Boy
The Fool
Holland, 1945
A Baby for Pree
Garden Head Leave Me Alone
Everything Is
King of Carrot Flowers
Aeroplane
Oh Comely
Song Against Sex
Ruby Bulbs
Snow Song Pt. 1
Ghost
Untitled (The Penny Arcade in California)
Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2

Encore:

Naomi
Ferris Wheel on Fire
Engine

You can hear all the recorded versions of the songs the group played here.

This post was updated at 2:21 p.m. PST.

Here’s a sharp review of the show at Consequence Of Sound.

And here’s a half hour of live Neutral Milk Hotel from 1998.

About Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg is a distinguished pioneer in the online music space; Newsweek magazine called him an ‘Internet visionary.’ In 1994 he founded Addicted To Noise (ATN), the highly influential music web site. He was a senior vice-president and editor in chief at SonicNet from March 1997 through May 2000. In 1997, Addicted To Noise won Webby awards for best music site in 1998 and 1999, and also won Yahoo Internet Life! awards for three years running as best music site in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Prior to starting Addicted To Noise, Goldberg was an editor and senior writer at Rolling Stone magazine for 10 years. His writing has also appeared in Wired, Esquire, Vibe, Details, Downbeat, NME and numerous other publications. Michael recently completed his first novel, Days of the Crazy-Wild, and is currently writing a second novel.

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