Why this gig?
I confess to not knowing much about Neutral Milk Hotel. They completely passed me by when they were at their height of popularity at the end of the 1990s. I hadn’t heard of them until I read something by Neil Gaiman which mentioned their best-known album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I can’t find the piece now, but I gave the album a couple of listens, enjoyed it and put it to one side.
I didn’t give them much more thought until I saw this gig advertised. I realised that this was a rare chance to see an obscure but influential band, so I bought a ticket.
On further investigation I find that the Dresden Dolls do a cover of “Two-Headed Boy” on some versions of Yes, Virginia (but not on any version I can currently find), so perhaps it was Amanda Palmer who was talking about In the Aeroplane…, not Neil Gaiman.
Support was from Laetitia Sadier. I remember enjoying her at the time, but I can’t really remember what it was that I enjoyed about her. Oh, Wikipedia says she’s the singer in Stereolab – that probably explains it.
The show starts with the band’s leader, Jeff Mangum, alone on stage playing “Two-Headed Boy”. To me, it’s the most recognisable song from In the Aeroplane… (for reasons that I explained above) and this is a great version of it. Then the rest of the band join him and the genius of the band becomes apparent. They are one of those collectives where everything becomes a potential instrument and their enthusiasm and passion for the music shines through and raises the performance to another level.
Apparently, the last time they played in London it was to an audience of about a hundred. On their return, they have sold out three nights at the Roundhouse. That’s pretty impressive, given that they’ve recorded nothing new in the interim.
And there’s no new material here tonight either. About half of the songs come from In the Aeroplane… and the rest of the material is drawn from the rest of their 1990s recordings. But everything is loved by the crowd who sing along cheerfully to pretty much everything.
It’s a relatively short show. It’s about an hour before they leave the stage. But they’re soon back for a four-song encore which sends the crowd away happy.
I think they’re playing a few festival dates in the UK this summer. I recommend seeing them if you can.
The setlist is on Setlist.fm.