Neutral Milk Hotel, Albert Hall, Manchester - gig review


For many (myself included) part of the allure of the package that came with discovering Neutral Milk Hotel was that it was bound in mystery, rumour and enigma.

A band absconded by its own creator and songwriter, Jeff Mangum, who supposedly went underground due to the pressures of new found fame and notoriety that their second album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea brought him and then - like a haunted house – was left dormant for years, gaining a new lease of life, a fresh set of rumours and an escalated cult status for every new generation that discovers it.

Sixteen years since the band’s last release Mangum bumbles on stage to a thunderous roar, his hair long and scraggly tucked under a cap and sporting a huge bedraggled beard – a get-up that hides his face almost entirely.

This could almost be read as something of a playful in-joke to his once supposed hermit status, if he still didn’t seem so uneasy and hidden on stage at times. However, conversation is not the reason people are here, so Mangum’s vocal absence of personality throughout the evening can easily be forgiven.

Starting solo and acoustic Mangum hammers his guitar strings and sparks up the intro to ‘Two Headed Boy’. Mangum’s voice is a delightful but strange beast; it’s so powerful and brunt, raging and blowing like a heavy gale and, like being caught in a windstorm, it whips and changes direction constantly, almost always on the verge of steering off course. The unpredictable path of Mangum’s vocal delivery is often what makes it such a transfixing experience. At its peak it sounds like the blasting foghorn of a ship out at sea and yet at it’s most delicate it’s still that same unmistakable, powerful sound of a foghorn blast but from a boat coming to rescue you, one soaked in comfort, ease and an inescapable, permeated joy.

The band joins him for the natural follow-up ‘The Fool’ as drums pound, horns toot, resonating richly as accordions howl gently. Neutral Milk Hotel are often mistakenly lumbered in with other ‘lo-fi’ groups and affiliated sensibilities, however, intricate, multi-layered instrumentalism and considered textural accompaniment have always been as integral a component to the group’s output as the rudimentary, raggedy guitar-and-voice combination. No more so is this clear than throughout this evening - Julian Koster’s singing saw is a constantly delightful touch, one that both weeps and floats, a drifting soundscape that succeeds in being both melancholic and uplifting at the same time. Similarly, the accompanying brass can be as exuberant and bold as it can wistful and sombre.

Tonight’s venue is an old Methodist Church and during the searing sing-a-long to ‘The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three’ the sight and sound of seeing 2,000 plus people, arms aloft, screaming “I love you Jesus Christ!’ takes on a strange, rousing atmosphere as crucifix’s punctuate the building via the stain glassed windows that circle the entire room. It’s clear however, that any devotion is placed entirely towards those stood on stage making an explosive, rambunctious racket.

Tonight ends with Mangum solo again on ‘Two-Headed Boy Pt 2’ before the band briefly return for the last time on ‘Engine’ which is a delicate, understated farewell to an evening that – much like the band themselves – has swatted back and forth between moments of euphoric, collective expulsion and intricate, introverted isolation.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living