Friday, January 31, 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel @ Union Transfer - Philadelphia, PA 1/30/14

This all started with a mixtape.

Turd Ferguson was my Lala Nickname

In 2006 I joined a website called Lala.  The website, which was sold to Apple in 2010 and then closed, was a place for music lovers to trade Cd's with other music lovers.  Actually, it was a lot more than that.  It was the place where you finally realized that you were not alone in your love of music.  Lala's Facebook type format allowed you to share, connect, joke, and sometimes even get banned.  It was a community, and a passionate one at that.

Many of your connections on Lala came from trading Cd's.  Some connections were from the forums.  This particular connection came from the mutual admiration of Turd Ferguson.  Turd Ferguson was a name made up by Burt Reynolds, as played by Norm McDonald, on the Jeopardy skit on SNL.  Turd Ferguson was also the nickname I used on Lala.  It caught the eye of my Lala friend 'Hap' and the rest was history.

Who was this band?!?  Why did I not know them???  How could this be?

I loved this song so much immediately.  It spoke to me.  And I was also confused that I had not heard of them.  Later in the mix, Hap also included King of Carrot Flowers, Part I.  That was it.  I needed to know everything about this band.

After a quick search I was sad to learn that these songs were from the band second and final album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.  The first track was King of Carrot Flowers Part I, which I already loved.  But then came King of Carrot Flowers Part II & III.

The opening lines of,  "I LOVE YOU JESUS CHRIST.  JESUS CHRIST I LOVE YOU YES I DO" took me by surprise.  I didn't quite know what to think to be quite honest.  The rest of the disc itself was not as upbeat and in consisted of horns and saws and accordions.  I put the disc away and forgot about it for a couple of years.

That was until 2011 when after a late night of drinking and talking music that the topic came up again.  We were discussing favorite songs and a friend of mine mentioned 'Oh Comely'.

Maybe I was just in the right frame of mind but this time upon listening I fell in love.  That night I put the disc on in its entirety and this time I couldn't get it out of my head.

Soon after I read the 33 1/3 book about the making of this album which I reviewed earlier.    I picture Jeff Mangum to be the equivalent of what Sheldon Cooper might have been had he been an artist as opposed to a scientist.  The book tells the wonderful story of friendship. It details the masterpiece that they were able to create, and how it led to the mental breakdown of Jeff Mangum and his eventual turn to becoming a recluse. 

Around the time of reading the book Jeff Mangum reappeared and had set dates for a couple of solo shows.  I decided that I really could not afford the $300 prices on Stubhub but there was hope.  If there were solo shows there was always the possibility of a reunion.

In 2012 Jeff launched a Neutral Milk Hotel website which was selling box sets with never before released material. Finally, in 2013, the website started to announce a handful of shows with a reunited Neutral Milk Hotel!!!!

Late in 2013 they announced two dates for Neutral Milk Hotel in Philadelphia.  The first show would be at a larger venue called the Tower Theater while the second would be at a wonderful, smaller venue called Union Transfer.  Thank you Sean Agnew!!!

I figured I would shoot for the stars and try to get tickets for the Union Transfer show.  When they went on sale they sold out in 2 minutes...but I managed to get tickets!  It was like hitting the lottery.  I WAS GOING TO SEE NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL!!!

Although tickets went on sale in August of 2013 I had to wait until tonight to see the show.  It seemed like an eternity.  I was curious as to whether Jeff could have fun playing these songs again.  The songs that became his eventual prison.  Tonight I would find out.

I had a conference two hours away in which I had to wake up extra early.  Today was going to be a mad dash.  I two hour drive back to work and then the travel into Philly.  It was a long day but by 7:00 I had my tickets in had from the will call window and headed inside.

I got inside, bought a shirt, chugged a beer, hit the head, and got a spot right up front.

I was in for the long haul  I was not moving from this spot.  Elf Power would be coming on at 8:30 and NMH afterwards.

This was a no photography show so this photo and one other is all that I have.  I had every intention of sneaking a few pics but as the night progressed no one challenged this rule.  I was not going to challenge it either.  That shows you what type of respect that the fans have for this band.  I have to say not having the phone in my hand was a relief.  I just enjoyed it.  It has been years since I have done that.

Elf Power came on at 8:30 sharp.  Elf Power were part of the Elephant 6 collective and longtime friends of Mangum.  They sounded great.  They played a mix of songs from their 12 album career including songs from the new album.  They were having fun and the crowd responded well.  Andrew shared a story about them playing at the Khyber Pass with of Montreal in the late 90's.  A drunken man was by the drums when they took the stage and refused to leave until the bouncers tossed them.  After the show of Montreal went to get in their van and the man was pissing on their back bumper.  They were like, "WTF!" until they realized that they had an Elf Power bumper sticker on the van and the man thought he was pissing on their  They played a 45 minute set and left the stage. 

It was finally time and at 9:45 Jeff Mangum took the stage.  I was shocked at his facial hair when he took the stake.  He was sporting a uni-bomber beard and an over sized wool sweater.  I use that reference for visual beard isn't far behind.

He started the Show with King of Carrot Flowers.  His voice was strong and he sounded great. He was set up directly in front of me and I was only 3 people back.  It seems like a dream at this point.  The crowd was singing along and all was well.  When he started into King of Carrot Flowers part II and III Scott, Jeremy, and Julian came out to join him.  Laura Carter from Elf Power joined them as well.

Scott looked much like Santa Claus.  Julian looked the same where Jeremy was sporting a mustache that made him look like the mascot for W.B. Mason.

A Neutral Milk Hotel show turned out to be everything I had heard and hoped it would be.  Their live shows were legendary.  The members play a variety of instruments.  Accordion, The Saw, Banjo, and a variety of horns round out the list.  The amazing thing is how they all seem to play a good number of them.  You may see the drummer step out from behind the kit and pick up the accordion or Scott putting down the horns and picking up a guitar.  Its just something you have to experience to appreciate.

 As the concert unfolded you would get the occasional smile from Jeff.  On some songs he would jump and even give a quick rock star pose.  We even got a few Thank Yous.  What I found even more interesting is that he would turn and get caught up watching his own band mates perform.  You could see him getting lost in time watching Jeremy wailing away on the drums in spastic precision keeping his elbows locked at his sides.  The way Jeremy's lips curled up gave you the impression that his arms where trying to get away and he was holding on for dear life.  On a couple of occasions the drumstick slipped from his hand and hit the ceiling.  Jeff Would often watch Julian on bass or on the saw, and watch as Scott was singing his lyrics back at him before hitting the horns.  He was as entertained by what they were creating as we were.

The set continued on in perfect form.  The band was so tight they were one.  They played a mix of songs from both of their albums and also some of the unreleased material like 'Ferris Wheel on Fire'.

A huge highlight for me was 'Oh Comely'.  That is a beautifully fragile song.  Jeff sounded the same as when it was recorded.  The build up and emotion leading into the stretched, high notes were awe inspiring.  The crowd sung with him in unison until the end and then the band came back on to a high energy 'Song Against Sex'.

They finished off their hour long set with Snow Song, Part One and left the stage.  After a small break they returned and finished off the set with the last 3 songs of 'In The Aeroplane Over The Sea'.  The jam on [untitled] was crazy!    After that the band left the stage again.  Jeremy flung a drum stick into the audience that may have scared me had it been in my direction.  Jeff performed 'Two headed Boy Part II' and it was incredible.  The band joined him again.  Scott was late getting back out.  He informed us he was cleaning his beard out.  He was getting it ready to perform a little song called 'Engine'.  This concert favorite was originally released as the B side to Holland, 1945.

It was beautiful and a fitting ending to the show.  I really did not want it to end.  I had been moved, I jumped around, and sung along.  Everything that a show should be.  What struck me the most is their sense of family.  How Jeremy hugged everyone after the show and how Scott made sure he told everyone good show and shook hands with them.  You get the sense that they truly love each other.  That it is not a job.  They are family. 

 These are the experiences that fuel my love for live music.  I guess I can cross this one off of my list.  Now all that I can hope for is new music by NMH.  :) 

See you at the next show!


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