Jeff Mangum returned to the Vogue Theatre last Saturday night, but this time he brought the whole band with him. That’s right, Neutral Milk Hotel, all in the same place, playing the same music they released together over 15 years ago. The high from the night has lasted me days, and teenaged me finally got what he longed for after all these years.
Fellow 90s indie-rockers Elf Power got everyone in the mood with a revitalization of a genre that I have felt unfamiliar with lately. I like to think that since the beginning of Neutral Milk Hotel’s 15-year hiatus, my taste in music has matured into a vastly different style; mostly this means I listen to less of the simple, power-chord changing distorted guitar riffs that were so popular back then. That being said, bands like Elf Power are what kept the roots of the indie-rock genre alive and interesting throughout the 21st century, and their performance served me a strange nostalgia that was well worth arriving early for.
Mangum started the musical odyssey that came next.
Alone he stood with his acoustic guitar as the crowd beckoned for musical affection. In alignment with the band’s most renowned album, In the Aeroplane over the Sea, he chose to lead the night off with “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1″. The introduction lasted long enough for the remaining members of the band to take their places next to Mangum on stage, and the famous words of “Pts. 2 & 3″, “I love you, Jesus Christ,” were followed by things getting a whole lot louder and the crowd getting a whole lot pushier. A relatively (to what I recall from the 90s) tame mosh pit took over the area in front of the stage but was quickly subdued when people realized how old they were and stopped participating in an outdated habit. Once things had settled into an excited mix of dancing fans, singing along to every word from songs they were all so seemingly familiar with, the band really showed their prowess.
From the mid-song instrument changes, including the use of a singing saw, various horns, keyboards, and guitars both acoustic and electric, to the solid progression of songs from both of the band’s albums, the performance was impeccable. Mangum’s voice reverberated throughout the venue with as much poise as you would expect from the tracks on his records. Put simply, the show was incredible. This is the kind of band that meshes so well together on stage that you can actually feel their respect for one other as they play. Mangum takes the lead role when introducing new songs and thanking the crowd, but Scott Spillane (with his epic beard) and Julian Koster play effective support to this. As a member of the crowd, you felt like the band appreciated your attention, something I find to be a rarity in shows of this size.
Perhaps because this was the first time I’d been to a reunion tour that featured a band I was actually alive for when they first became famous, my fanboyism created a bias. But even still, Neutral Milk Hotel’s performance has left a wake of exhilaration unlike any I’ve experienced before. When they started the encore with “Ghost”, I just about lost it.