Neutral Milk Hotel announced their tour dates in July. The tickets went on sale on August 2nd at 12:00 pm. I bought my tickets at 12:01. I printed out the tickets at 12:02. By 12:05, I worked out that I had approximately 173 days and 8 hours and 55 minutes to wait. I have never been the poster child for patience, but this wait was especially excruciating.
Neutral Milk Hotel were/are playing a string of New York City events (two nights at BAM and two nights at Webster Hall), but experiencing a live performance at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester has been on my to do list for quite some time now (and I wanted some home-cooked food from my parents). Therefore, I decided to leave the city and take a train ride to Westchester.
The Capitol Theatre, for those who are unaware, is one of the oldest and most historic theaters in New York. The Capitol Theatre opened on August 18, 1926. It was a major hub for rock and folk musicians touring in the 1960s (Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead to name a few). Unfortunately, The Capitol Theatre was shut down in the early ‘70s. In 2011, the Capitol Theatre was renovated and re-opened. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, The Capitol Theatre is not only an important historic symbol, but a convenient place for Westchester kids to hear music without having to trek into New York City (being a Westchester kid myself, I am very sympathetic to this).
Seeing a band that has been pretty much dormant for 14 years in a venue that has been pretty much dormant for 40 years seemed appropriate. That being said, in reality Neutral Milk Hotel could have been performing anywhere and I would have paid money to see them.
14 years is a long time– more than half of my existence. We may have seen several wars begin and end and a few presidents come in and out of office, yet (despite Jeff’s beard), it doesn’t seem like too much has changed with Neutral Milk Hotel. Jeff Mangum still rocks the dorky Christmas sweaters, Julian Koster still looks like a child (that man does not age), Jeff’s voice is still nasally and thin yet surprisingly rich, and the band’s dynamic members still seem to have as much, if not more, chemistry as they did in back in the ‘90s.
I have seen Jeff Mangum perform solo before, yet experiencing the whole band together, was a completely different experience. Julian Koster coaxed haunting melodies out of his singing saw, Scott Spillane anchored the horn section, and Jeremy Barnes propelled the music forward with explosive drumming, all while Jeff’s nasally voice shouted above the ruckus. This was a sonic experience that I did not expect nor had I prepared for.
Magnum opened the set by himself. Briefly after walking onstage, someone commented on his sweater, to which he responded, “What did you say about my sweater?” The first song that he graced us with was “Two-Headed Body.” Standing with his feet firmly on stage, Jeff Mangum played the song straightforward, almost exactly as it sounds on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The rest of the band joined on stage by the end of the song, and, like in the album, they transitioned into “Fool.”
For a band with the stature that Neutral Milk Hotel possesses, they were nice, gracious and humble. Jeff Mangum always seems surprised to find out how beloved he is. When he held the mic to the audience, and was confronted by a sea of audience members shouting every word and every inflection of his song, he seemed genuinely taken aback. One thing that Jeff Mangum wasn’t doing from 1999 to 2010: stroking his ego. That being said, Neutral Milk Hotel knew exactly what we wanted, and they gave it to us. Without messing around, they played pretty much every song that the crowd came to hear. Their setlist included: “Two-Headed Boy,” “Fool,” “Holland, 1945,” “A Baby for Pree / Glow Into You,” “Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone,” “Everything Is,” “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1,” “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3,” “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” “Naomi,” “Ferris Wheel on Fire,” “Oh Comely,” “Song Against Sex,” “Ruby Bulbs,” “Snow Song, Part one,” (ENCORE) “Ghost,” “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][untitled],” “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2” and “Engine.” Yes, they really did play all of those songs, all presented in a straightforward manner, almost exactly how they sounded on the recordings, yet here and there they would add small flourishes. For instance, Jeff would include a run or go a third up or down at the end of a phrase, or Julian would open the song with a different pattern. These variations were like priceless gifts that the band dished out and the audience grabbed at desperately.
The band was great, the venue was great, the night was great. Seeing the gang play live after all of these years thoroughly solidifies my belief that they were one of the greatest bands to ever grace the music world. There’s nothing much else to say, except, Julian Koster: will you please be my friend? I think we would get along well.
“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” (2013)