Last night brought the legendary Neutral Milk Hotel to play at The Blue Note in Columbia, a two-hour, 120-mile drive away from where I live in St Louis. No matter, Neutral Milk Hotel is my all-time favorite band and I will drive or fly thousand of miles just to see them play. Heck, I actually did that late in 2011 back when Jeff Mangum announced his official return and solo tour. I flew to New Jersey to see Jeff and it was one of the best and most wonderful experience I ever had (I mean, Jeff is finally back…that still doesn’t seem real to me). I had another chance to see Jeff earlier this year in January (unforgettable). But nothing, not even seeing Jeff’s solo shows twice had prepared me for the full band’s reunion last night.
I don’t think the moment hit until the second song. You see, Jeff started the show solo playing Two Headed Boy Pt 1. And then, towards the end of the song, the rest of the band came out. And as Two Headed Boy transitioned into The Fool and as Scott started blowing his horns, goosebumps overcame me. That’s when it hit me. Holy shit, Neutral Milk Hotel are really, really back. I could cry.
The band. There was Julian with that droopy knit cap with one ear flapping by the side of his head and such a joyful smile on his face, alternately pogoing happily with his accordion and then sitting quietly filling the air with reverb with his amazing singing saw. There was Scott, so boisterous and pumped, singing along those old songs to himself, and killing it with all the brass instruments he brought on stage. There was Jeremy, with his epic mustache, keeping and reigning in all the disorder, at one point waving his drum sticks along like a mad conductor to the organized chaos in front of him. And there was Jeff, still wearing that damn exact same sweater and fisherman cap from ’98, content to stand on the side, letting his friends grab the spotlight, still singing with such intense emotion, finally allowing himself to crack a satisfied smile with Julian during the small breaks. They were joined at various points by Orange Twin-founder and Elf Power-member Laura Carter, Jeff’s wife Astra, and an unfamiliar (to me) fifth member who all added to the revelry.
The songs. They are so pure and beautiful and the band played them all like how I always imagined in my head. It’s like Neutral Milk Hotel never went into hiatus, as the band played each song with such unbridled joy and passion, giving living breathing life to these simple two, three, four chord songs. Now In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is and will always be my favorite record of all time, but I would also like to complement how wonderfully the band played the non-Aeroplane tracks. Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone and Songs Against Sex got me dancing so hard. and the contemplatively glorious set-ending combo of Ruby Bulbs and Snow Song Part 1 might be my favorite part of the whole night.
The crowd. The audience was fucking amazing. There were points of riotous dance mania as when everyone just went crazy and started bumping bodies following the breakdown in King of Flowers Pt 2 and 3 and there moments of quiet reverence as we all stood appreciating the beauty of Oh Comely. The audience , they really did make this show that much special.
I don’t think I have ever been to a more wonderful concert. And I doubt any other future shows will top this night. It’s a night I will forever hold dear in my memory and keep special in my heart. As Jeff, closed out the encore with the book-ending Two Headed Boy Pt 2, we clapped and cheered as hard as we could, knowing full well we’ll never experience anything like this again. Neutral Milk Hotel obliged us. They came out with a second encore Engine, or as Scott termed it, their lullaby.
As cameras and video recorders are not allowed at the show, I don’t have any photos of the band from last night’s show. It’s better this way actually. You really need to experience Neutral Milk Hotel live for yourself. I was lucky enough to be able to meet the band (minus Jeff) after the show. They were all incredibly nice and appreciative of their fans and so happy to be back touring. I was able to procure a blurry photo with Julian as well as get the band to sign my poster. The poster complements the one in ’11 that I got Jeff to sign after I had the chance to meet him after his solo show.