Saturday, October 12, 2013

Neutral Milk Hotel - First Show in 15 Years 10/11/13 Baltimore, MD

I am 100% sure that there will be better written and more thorough reviews of last night's Neutral Milk Hotel show, but here goes.

We arrived at 2640 Space around 7:30 after a very rainy 3 hour trip from the mountains of Western MD. 2640 Space is a former church that is pretty much hollowed out. There's exposed brick work, crumbling plaster, and where the alter was there's now a stage stripped of all the religious artifacts that once decorated the walls.

The room was probably 2/3rds full at this point and the stage was jam packed with equipment, amps, guitars, horns, squeeze boxes, saws, drums, etc, etc. Elf Power started around a 8 and ripped through a set of old and new tunes. Slowing it down at one point to dedicate a song to recently passed Elephant 6 cohort Bill Doss. Elf Power seemed supremely aware that they were there for something special and didn't waste time finishing up and clearing the stage.

After Elf Power cleared the stage the 2/3rds room filled to capacity in no time. 9 o'clock came and went and set up for Neutral Milk Hotel continued. There seemed to be some sort of equipment issue that needed to be worked out. I can't speak for the rest of the crowd, but I was getting restless. Finally some time between 9:20 and 9:30 a small black flash light flickered on and off at the corner of the stage letting the folks at the board know it was time to go.

A very bearded Jeff Magnum walked out on stage to thunderous applause. He picked up a guitar and began playing Two-Headed Boy from the bands acclaimed "In The Aeroplane Over the Sea" album. As Magnum played the other member of the group made their way up on stage to more cheers from the crowd. Scott Spillane could be seen mouthing or singing along to every word Magnum shouted into the microphone. As Two-Headed Boy ended the entire group burst into a lively rendition of The Fool. Everything the crowd seemed to be expecting had come to fruition at this point and the show was off and running.

They followed The Fool with Holland, 1945 and A Baby for Pree quickly one after the other. One of the most interesting thing about this show was simply how captivated the crowd was. In between songs you could literally hear a pin drop. The silence was something I've never really experienced at a show. Occasionally someone in the crowd would try to break the spell by shouting something like "Thanks for coming to Baltimore" or "Have you been to the aquarium?" which would sometimes be followed by murmurs of laughter from the rest of the audience. The band itself kept the stage banter to a minimum, the typical "thank you" and "we're so happy to be here," although at one point Magnum confessed to loving all the other members of the band.

The set list was a mix of the band's releases and the members traded off instruments with ease. The crowd, who have probably only heard Magnum perform this material solo and without accompaniment over the last 15 years we're extremely excited to hear each horn blast, each bowed note of the saw, each of Julian Kostner's crazy bass slaps and banjo plucks. There were sing-a-longs and there were moments of "holy shit this is actually happening" silence.

After finishing Oh, Comely and fan favorite, Song Against Sex the band moved into their most experimental part of the set running through Ruby Bulbs, Snow Song, Ghost, and Untitled. At this point the band left Magnum alone again to strum Two-Headed Boy (Part 2). As Magnum finished the last line "But don't hate her when she gets up to leave" he smiled. clasped his hands together as if in prayer, said thanks and walked off the stage.

We spent most of the show standing in the back and at this point some people began to leave the church, I don't know if anyone was certain there would be an encore, but the crowd was asking for one more song. We got three. The band came back out and played Naomi, Ferris Wheel on Fire, and Engine. The band took their bows and left the stage together for the first time in 15 years.

So this review is probably overly glowing and flowery, and I'm sorry for that. I'm not a reviewer, I'm a fan. I never expected to be able to see Neutral Milk Hotel live, but I did and it was awesome. I pretty much had chills from the first note of Two-Headed Boy to the last note of Engine. Magnum's voice is still amazing and strong and the songs sound so much fuller with all the pieces there. It was just a great time. If you have the chance to see them on this tour do it.

You can read what Rolling Stone's Jessie Jarnow thought of the show here.

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