Neutral Milk Hotel plays fan favorites with new fervor post-hiatus

On Jan. 19, I attended a Neutral Milk Hotel concert in Toronto. I can describe it simply in one word: breathtaking.“Sorry we were late last time,” Neutral Milk Hotel band member Scott Spillane said at the start of the show. The “last time” he was referencing had to have been at least 15 years ago. The band’s long-awaited reunion tour started in 2013 and is currently planned to run through August. The band went on a long, indefinite hiatus after it released its 1998 record In the Aeroplane Over the Sea for unclear reasons. Some have speculated that it was because of an emotion breakdown of lead singer Jeff Mangum. In its reunion tour, the band is fully restored with the original lineup. The show opened with the band Elf Power, a member of the Elephant 6 collective, the recording company that Neutral Milk Hotel and various other indie folk bands are signed with. In between songs, Elf Power members rarely looked up and made no comment about song names, or even their own name – I had to look it up later. The group was a great opener but in no way did it prepare the crowd for what they were about to witness. I had seen Mangum play a solo concert, which was beautiful but missing a major element: the band. When he walked onstage this time around he had a full beard, long hair and wore a hat, making his face impossible to see. Alone on stage he started strumming the song “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One,” from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. In the middle of the song the rest of the group walked out and completed the picture. The band erupted into an explosion of power starting “The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three.” Before I could catch my breath, Mangum started playing “Holland, 1945.” Any Neutral Milk Hotel fan would know that this is probably their most energetic song, so there I was back in the mosh pit reliving my metal-head days. The biggest highlight of the show was when they played songs I hadn’t ever heard. Not knowing a good amount of the songs made standing there in the crowd absorbing all the amazing music and lyrics truly enjoyable. Band member Julian Koster contributed many of his own elements to the band’s sound. Most notable was the singing saw, a handsaw Koster played with a bow, showcasing a trademark instrument in Neutral Milk Hotel’s sound. Spillane and Jeremy Barnes also contributed to the band’s stunning horn section. The concert had all the elements that made for a mind-blowing night. In the wake of this concert, I’ve reflected a lot about the future of the group. Who knows what is in store for Neutral Milk Hotel? Seeing the band 16 years after it released any new music gives me hope and excitement for the group’s future endeavors.