Neutral Milk Hotel Warehouse Live February 19, 2014
Wednesday night's sold-out crowd at Warehouse Live was filled to the brim, as eager fans awaited newly reunited art-rockers Neutral Milk Hotel. For many, it was the first (or second) chance to see the band that bewilderingly broke up right after their second and most lauded album, the 1998 masterpiece In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Their absence only spurred fondness for the band, however, which was more than apparent last night.
Adding to the mystique already surrounding NMH front man Jeff Mangum -- who is notoriously reclusive and known for his general disuse of press ops -- several signs were posted prohibiting any photography, including those snapped with a cell phone.
Those who haven't seen the NMH front man since the '90s were likely surprised by his updated image; Mangum looked nearly unrecognizable at first, appearing more like a homespun mountain man, his burly beard blanketing his face and a trucker's hat atop his now-lengthy mop. Once he began singing, however, Mangum was instantly distinguishable, his unique voice filling the room in all its nostalgically unadulterated glory.
Mangum opened solo, playing "Two-Headed Boy," before being joined by his Aeroplane-era band, as "Fool" hit us with a wall of robust horns and two accordion players. It was hard to believe just how long this band had technically been on "hiatus" before recently, as they sounded as vibrant as ever.
"Thanks a lot," Mangum said, before quickly requesting that all cell phones be put away. It was a rare Zen moment at a rock show -- one which reminded us both of Mangum's enigmatic aura, but more importantly of how accurate he was in his reminder for us to focus, and enjoy the rare moment we were in -- one that was so worthy of our undivided attention.
The crowd complied (for the most part), and we were subsequently transported back to a time before cell phones and social networks. If only for a couple hours; it felt like a true rock show should feel -- dangerous, yet intimately raw.
Beanie-clad bassist Julian Koster swapped his bass for a banjo during ""Pts. 1 & 2," playing its strings with a violin bow. Later, he traded up for his trademark singing-saw, which he played during "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," among others.
"This is the first time we've played Houston," Koster said between songs. "You guys are wonderful."
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It was during songs like "Oh Comely," which Mangum played solo, when we were faced with how uniquely obscure yet magically eerie his lyrics are.
Psychedelic closer "Snow Song Pt. 1," from 1994 EP Everything Is, was lesser known among the otherwise expert crowd.
A requested encore immediately ensued, including "Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2," which Mangum played solo and acoustic. The full band returned to the stage once more for the set's ultimate closer, "Engine," from their 2011 EP Ferris Wheel On Fire.
Mangum maintained his mystique with only a brief "Good night," waving to the crowd as he slowly walked offstage.
Mangum is and has always been disenchanted by the music business - that much we now know. We thank him, however, from the bottom of our two-headed hearts, for at least providing us with an enchanting night we won't soon forget.
Personal Bias: How many other ways can I say it was a really good show?
The Crowd: Houston's best-looking hipsters. Big NMH fans. A respectful singalong group with good energy.
Overheard In the Crowd: Lots of beard comments.
Random Notebook Dump: Beard comment.
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