Review: Neutral Milk Hotel

It’s only been a few years since this unparalleled clan of indie rockers reunited after an indefinite break from the public, and so expectations were varied in the hours before they took the Vogue Theatre stage on Saturday April 5th. The energy was charged as the crowd pressed forward, bringing themselves closer to the platform on which a musical deity of sorts would soon be standing. The show was entirely sold out- a fact easily deduced by the thunderous buzz of individuals young and old that quickly packed the venue. The show certainly felt like a big deal and, in a sense, was exclusive… cardholders were limited to two tickets apiece when they made their rapidfire purchases months before, and will-call was the only option, so as to prevent scalpers and 9-hour lineups.

To say that this band had a cult following would be a massive understatement, and though the mob of fans present may have seemed passionate and little more in the temperate hours preceding the appearance of the eclectic clan, the truth was highlighted as ribs began colliding with the dimming of the lights. It may have been a while since this band released new music, but their material has proven immortal.

After all, it has been a while: despite a couple of scattered appearances around 2008, it’s been a heaping sixteen years since the release of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, the iconic album that so swiftly solidified their influence in modern independent music, and therefore around a decade and a half since the hiatus that many fans likely feared would last forever. Combined with a track record of musical ingenuity and overflowing admiration from music-lovers everywhere, the sheer enigmatic nature of Neutral Milk Hotel, disappearance and all, made for circumstances that felt far more significant than a typical show.

Despite the awe-struck aura that encapsulated the room as Mangum’s bearded, god-like figure paced forward toward his microphone, humble wool sweater and all, the audience soon moulded together- as much physically as they did figuratively. Opening with “King of Carrot Flowers” parts one and two, and leading right into “Holland, 1945,” the modest performers captured the soul of the audience faster than Julian Koster could bring a mesmerizing sound out of a massive saw with nothing more than a beaming face and a fragmented violin bow, as he consistently managed to do. Lyrics were belted out on all sides, and arms thrown around rhythmically until every sound and movement seemed to function in unison.

Songs with the potential to bring a crowd to their feet were played with an energy directed at the moshers at heart, while the mellow and more intricately constructed tracks filled the room with a bewitching dynamic that could only be described as spiritually overwhelming. The audience was truly one as the flawless setlist materialized, flowing easily from vibrant, universally cherished hits to immaculately layered pieces too spellbinding for the swaying pack to bother singing along to.

Perfection was attained by the hypnotic chords of Oh Comely as, all at once, it was wordlessly proven that Neutral Milk’s idiosyncratic sound is truly unreplicable. Whether it is the influence of their frontman’s distinct voice, or simply some folk-music spell we have all fallen under, it is undeniable that the band has set itself entirely apart from any of its influences.

The evening erupted with tweet-worthy moments and photo ops, but it would be safe to say that social media remained far in the back of people’s minds. Specific expectations may not have been rampant prior to the show, but if any made themselves known, they were almost certainly shattered and deemed irrelevant by what transpired. Magic like this is, after all, far from predictable.

*Photo Credit Phoebe Turner

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