The Neutral Milk Hotel reunion tour, announced in 2013, took everyone by surprise. After the unexpected success of 1998’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum stopped all musical ventures and went into near-recluse. Despite the other members having fairly active solo careers, many of the most die-hard fans had given up hope that there would ever be word from Neutral Milk Hotel again. But come 2013, they returned to the stage, touring on and off from then to now. Unfortunately, the 2015 spring tour has been announced as the last tour of the reunion, but now that there’s been one reunion tour, who’s to say there won’t be another soon?
Those familiar with the band with notice that most of the band remains more or less unchanged: bassist Julian Koster still wears his characteristic wool hat, horn player Scott Spillane still has a long, fuzzy beard. That is, with the noticeable exception of Mangum himself. Once clean-cut and slightly nerdy-looking, Mangum now appears in every show with a hat pulled way over his head and a long beard, with the effect being that throughout the entire show, I don’t think I ever once clearly saw his face.
Thankfully, the band has maintained a lot of the energy from their 90s heyday. Drummer Jeremy Barnes plays even more wildly than on the album, and Koster is a sight to behold, bouncing across the stage and at times spinning in circles. Mangum, who is mostly constricted to the mic, compensates by putting the same amount of emotional intensity and energy that fans have grown to love from their studio albums.
Hardcore fans will be happy to hear them including music their entire catalog, not just limiting themselves to their most popular material, and more casual fans will enjoy hearing songs they’ve never heard. But certainly, there will be music for everyone; at the concert I went to, they played all but one (“Communist Daughter”) of the songs on Aeroplane.
The only criticism of the concert is unrelated to the band itself: the crowd at my show (and I understand this is the case at other NMH shows) were incredibly unenergetic, only standing up during the encore. It’s a small thing, but it takes away from the overall experience. Otherwise, the concert was fantastic, with the band at their top form. Overall, it’s a great experience for fans, especially those who were worried they may never get this chance.