The crowd at the Tabernacle last Saturday night seemed particularly anxious and with good reason. When the elusive Jeff Mangum announced six months ago that Neutral Milk Hotel would be putting on a reunion show, diehard fans everywhere rejoiced. For some, they had been waiting almost 15 years to hear the band live.
As the show began Mangum, almost unrecognizable with a long full beard, walked calmly to stage left and thanked everyone for being there. Mangum, known for his appreciation for privacy asked politely to keep cell phones and cameras off for the entirety of the show, a request that miraculously almost everyone was happy to oblige.
Mangum started to sing “Oh Comely” weaving in and out of verses first powerful then melancholy while playing acoustic guitar. Right before the songs climax, Scott Spillman joined on stage and began to blow the trumpet fiercely. For the last 45 seconds of the song the rest of the ensemble joined them on stage including well-known members Julian Koster, and Jeremy Barnes.
During the “King of Carrot Flowers parts 1, 2, & 3”, Koster introduced the accordion masterfully before switching to the banjo while Spillman blew the horns. Barnes picked up the tempo on drums, and the song evolved into a rowdy chorus that the crowd agreed is worth a little enthusiasm.
Giving the crowd a small opportunity to catch their breath, Mangum belted out the lyrics to the slow-paced and twisted “A Baby For Pree” before launching into “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone”, all singles from high energy album, On Avery Island.
During the beginning of “Holland 1945”, the band experienced some feedback issues with microphones but sorted it by the end. The extremely fast paced ode to Anne Frank gave the singer little time to take a breath, and Mangum had some minor difficulty keeping up with the melody.
Perhaps one of the most well known songs off In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is the song of the same name. One of the band’s most uplifting songs, “Aeroplane” is an amalgamation of horns and the eerie musical saw, which Koster and Spillman brought to life.
As the rest of the band retreated off stage, Mangum, adorned in faithful mountain wool sweater and cap, picked up an acoustic guitar and began to sing “Two Headed Boy”. The crowd went crazy and began to sing along as he belted the majority of the song at the top of his lungs, never missing a beat. The band returned and followed with the “The Fool”, complimenting the previous track with trumpets and accordion.
The band closed out the show with “Ruby Bulbs” and “Snow Song Part One”, lesser-known songs that Mangum asked crowd members who knew the words to sing along to.
During the encore the bands played three songs from In the Aeroplane Over The Sea including “Ghost”, “Untitled” and “Two Headed Boy Part 2” which caused the crowd to become very emotional. At this time Koster exited the stage for the last time, leaving Magnum to finish the show by himself and the crowd to send him off with a heavy applause.
As Mangum finished up his encore, and his seventh bottle of water, he looked out to each tier of the Tabernacle’s balconies and thanked his fans for their unyielding support over the years. Neutral Milk Hotel pulled their reunion off almost flawlessly, giving die-hard fans an experience that was absolutely worth the wait.