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Review: Neutral Milk Hotel proves ageless with fresh sound

Neutral Milk Hotel Credit: Courtesy of Ground Control Touring

Neutral Milk Hotel
Credit: Courtesy of Ground Control Touring

“You should put into your article that these guys are the only hipsters to ever melt people’s faces off.”

This opinion by the man next to me seemed to be one the rest of the audience at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion shared, as Neutral Milk Hotel took the stage amid thundering applause Sunday night.

Earlier in the evening, though, as the people trickled in and I staked out my spot on the lawn, the Columbus band Connections opened the festivities for the 2014 Next@Wex Fest, a show put on by PromoWest Productions, the Wexner Center for the Arts and alternative Columbus station CD102.5.

Given the picnic-like vibe on the lawn, Connections was extremely easy to listen to, and I was able to relax while the band played in the background.

Although the band didn’t necessarily capture the Sperry- wearing, cuffed-shorts-rocking crowd  (which I fit into perfectly myself), Connections did play a great set. Its alternative sound had a very radio-friendly quality without sounding too typical, especially on “Beat the Sky.”

With good vocal harmonies and fast-paced songs, Connections proved that a band can have a full sound without being in your face.

Touring with Neutral Milk Hotel was Circulatory System. Both bands were signed to the same label, Elephant 6, but that seemed to be the only thing these two artists shared.

Circulatory System came out with a slow and awkward start. There seemed to be no direction from the multitude of instruments on stage, including two drumsets, an electric violin and a cello.

What made the performance so frustrating was the lack of synchronization between the music and vocals. The act just came off as aimless and wandering. And while I’m sure that multiple people in the audience could have shown me a “Not all those who wander are lost” tattoo, Circulatory System did, indeed, seem lost.

Whatever qualms I had with Circulatory System, however, were soon forgotten when lead singer Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel took the stage. He opened the band’s set with a solo rendition of “I Will Bury You In Time,” and the rest of the group joined in to finish.

Immediately, the audience, including myself, was captivated by the sound filling the venue. It was almost eerie seeing the entire venue so focused on one man on stage.

There aren’t a lot of bands that actually sound better live than recorded, but Neutral Milk Hotel is definitely one of that does. The combination of the acoustic guitar and the horns gave the group a rounded out sound and a party-like atmosphere that made the band sound complete without having to turn the amplifier up to 10. And while the band was able to get the crowd going with fun songs, it was also able to make everyone quiet down with its more somber songs.

Neutral Milk Hotel also had extreme control and precision when it came to the instrumentals and vocals. The band hit everything exactly how it wanted, showing off its experience.

The classic folk-styled roots of Neutral Milk Hotel translated extremely well into a live performance that was scaled up and aided by the 21st century. What looked like a small-time acoustic band came out and filled the entire pavilion with songs that could range from slow and mellow to fast and intense — all with a folk vibe.

Despite coming off a 15-year hiatus that only just ended in 2013, Neutral Milk Hotel sounded extremely fresh and didn’t show any signs of being aged or dated in a bad way. From the jaw dropping vocals on “Two-Headed Boy” to the full use of everyone on stage for “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” the show was a great exhibition for the folk band’s range in performance.

Neutral Milk Hotel is just one of those groups who can do anything it wants on stage and be good at it.

One comment

  1. fantastic show…and the crowd was of the utmost respect. I don’t even recall seeing anyone phuckin’ with their phones when NMH was on stage. That in and of itself is amazing when seeing a concert in today’s age.

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