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poster flag US - Georgia - Full Moon 218 - 06/13/14

Neutral Milk Hotel
Roundhouse, London, UK, May 22. + 23. 2014

On May 16th, the legendary Neutral Milk Hotel opened their first European tour in 16 years! The tour started in Dublin, Glasgow and Manchester, before the band entered London and Camden's Roundhouse for three nights in a row. All three shows sold out in early January, so the London audience was hungry for Mangum and his cohorts. The tour takes the band further throughout Europe (and the US) this summer for several festivals. They will even revisit Norway in August, for the ØYA festival. Last time they visited Norway - in August and September of 1998 - I missed them both times. This time I was prepared: I went to London to see them two nights in a row!

Jeff MangumBandleader Jeff Mangum is a fantastic songwriter, with grim fantasy tales from a rather dark and surreal world as special skills. His stories stretch heads, hands and feet in all directions, maybe not far from the menagerie to be found in films directed by David Lynch. Or not, or what? Whatever, the thing is, Neutral Milk Hotel has been history for years, since the band was disbanded after their big year of success in 1998. The year when their fantastic, spectacular, and classic second album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea came. After massive touring Mangum did not handle the success, or the focus on himself as the creative core of band. His close friends describe him as a very shy and private person, so it is quite understandable that everything went a bit intense when everybody wanted a piece of the man; wanted to talk to him about his genius - when all he wanted to do was writing songs (and all he had done - according to himself - was, that he had written and recorded a bunch of songs over a few years). Well, they were (or: are) for sure a creative bunch of souls all those Elephants 6 collective men and women: Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, of Montreal, Elf Power, Circulatory System, A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Gerbils, Music Tapes, Major Organ and the Adding Machine, Black Swan Network, Marbles, Instruments, Minders, Frosted Ambassador, etc. However, mind you, Neutral Milk Hotel did not go away. In addition, neither did Jeff Mangum. NMH set traces in rock history. As a cult band, no as a band in general. They have inspired a whole new generation of (indie) rock kids. Without NMH, no Arcade Fire, no Franz Ferdinand, no The Decemberists....

2011 saw the coming of the great big vinyl box set (their two albums plus 7" singles and 10" EPs). The year after Jeff Mangum started performing live again, and in 2013 the whole band regrouped, ready for touring the world. Again. Airing their old songs. Sorry, no new songs in their bags. However, this brought them back to London. And, this brought me back to London as well!

Julian Koster and Jeff MangumThe ever-so elegant Laetitia Sadier and her French/Spanish trio had the difficult (or impossible) task of opening for NMH on this tour, but did a fair and decent job, playing a 10-song set each night, ending with her fresh single, the catchy "Then, I Will Love You Again". Neat, but all of us was waiting for the main act. And she knew. There was a nervous buzz in the Roundhouse the 15 minutes or so before NMH went on. Scott Spillane on stage doing the last mic check (part of his ritual, I guess, as he did the same thing both Thursday and Friday). Then, enter Jeff, enter Scott Spillane, enter Julian Koster, enter Jeremy Barnes. And everthing is on. Everything is. It all starts, of course, with "The King of Carrot Flowers Part I", followed by parts "II" and "III". And everything went wild. Blam! Crazy! It was energetic, ecstatic, and electric. Breathless magic moments appear. The wildest (youngest - I noticed on Thursday that, say, at least a third of the audience probably had not attended school when the band was formed... I'm so happy they're recruiting new fans!) crowd went crazy-dancing in the mosh pit. The band keep on pounding out the classis from their two albums. In fact, during the two evenings, they played all songs from Aeroplane, except one ("Communist Daughter"), and most songs from On Avery Island. Plus a lot of rarities and single tracks. Friday night opened with "Oh Comely", before the "Carrot Flower" trilogy exploded. The two shows was living proof of a band in tip-top shape (are they better than they ever was?), and it was so good to see the switches between Mangum performing the solo numbers to the full band smashing through the songs that we all love so much. All of them performed with the same intensity and authenticity. Amazing. Shame about the sound, then. Not so good. Quite woolly at times. Is that a Roundhouse thing, or what? That said, it did not matter that much, because when the music and the concert is so good and breath taking... you know. The presence of Mangum, his voice, and his acoustic guitar, his long beard... you don't notice no woolly sound, right? The playful, whimsical Julian Koster jumps, spins, and swirls all over the stage, all around himself. He is all over, wearing his favourite blue wool-hat, of course, with a childlike stamina and joyful grin he sits with his singing saw, bows over the organ, or jumps around with his rumbling fuzz-bass. Scott Spillane is a steady player, handling all his horns and other instruments, singing his heart out (either it's with or without a mic). Jeremy Barnes is a way steady drummer and accordionist, and he's quite often the rhythmic glue binding the madness together, with his tight, yet wild, frantic and energetic drumming. Great man. Great band. On this tour the quartet had added two extra players/guests: Jeremy Thal (from Briars of North America) on French horn, trumpet, trombone, bass, etc., plus Astra Taylor (documentary filmmaker, writer, and musician - and, well, yes, Mangum's spouse) on accordion, guitar, etc. The sextet was great and those who are going to see the band on this tour: be prepared for something you have never seen and heard before. This is great stuff!

Jeremy BarnesIf I was to mention some songs from the two shows I'd name the intense "Song Against Sex", the obvious "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea", the beautiful "Naomi" (which must be a distant crush as an ode to the former US indie rock "queen" Naomi Yang, ex-Galaxie 500), the brilliant "Holland, 1945", the ever green "Gardenhead" (who made some of the crowd surf each other), and a sparkling "Ferris Wheel on Fire". Oh, yes, I also have to mention "Two Headed Boy", and "Oh Comely", performed by Mangum solo. All blistering and pure genius. Stunning performances. Naked, raw, and for real. When "Two-Headed Boy, part two" ends, the band surrounds Mangum for the closing encore with "Engine". This song has been a regular closing song for most of their shows. And everything is magic. We all snap for air. A magical journey through the world of Neutral Milk Hotel. It was a night, no, two nights to remember.

Scott SpillaneLondon's Roundhouse was originally a railway engine shed/depot, but it has also been used as a circus venue. When the band will visit Oslo's ØYA festival on August 8th, they will play (almost spot on) Oslo's circus venue. Quite appropriate. Because this is a true circus act. Lots of horns, bowed banjo, accordions, white noise, the singing saw, swirling sounds, two-headed boys, long beards, wild lyrics, friendly craziness. Good blokes. I guess this is the band Tom Waits never have dreamt of that he should have been backed by. Hey, Tom! Read. Listen. Dream.

Copyright © 2014 Håvard Oppøyen e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Neutral Milk Hotel articles/reviews: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, On Avery Island.

© 2014 Luna Kafé