I learned about Neutral Milk Hotel maybe 10 years ago, reading something claiming that their album In The Aeroplane Over the Sea was one of the greatest albums of all time. I listened and I liked it, but it has that overly busy arrangements, overly obscure lyrics problem that most psychedelica has. Plus, it was fussy and arty.
I filed it under XTC in my drawer of records I like well enough, I can see the appeal, but I’m not seduced.
After constant touring after In the Aeroplane was released, Jeff Mangum retired from show biz (or touring). Apparently he also had some sort of nervous period and went silent. Well, not completely, but he did not perform publicly until 2011, when he played at a benefit for a friend of his at a club in New York.
One thing leads to another, and last year the band that performed In the Aeroplane announced that they were going to tour again.
Many were excited. I was interested because I like stories like Mangum’s, of withdrawal and then reengagement. Plus, who isn’t interested in a cult favorite?
A few weeks ago my friend Julie invited me to see NMH at BAM, a few blocks from my house. Yes, I said, because I like hanging with my friend and because I know there are lots of folks hanging on the Neutral Milk Hotel.
My fear was that the show was going to be like the album, which is good but also fussy.
But the show was great. The clip I bring from another stop on the tour demonstrates the bands artsiness, plenty, but it also (if you turn up the volume) shows a kickass rhythm section and a rock sense. Plus horns, accordions and saw!
Muscular and eccentric, which sounded really good in the beautiful Gilman Opera House.