Neutral Milk Hotel @ Union Transfer

Faithful followers and comrades rejoice, for your leader and god among men has christened this unholy land with a renewal of ironic beards. He has brought forth to us the sight of good will sweaters and the heavenly scent of stale Pabst. Behold, all, for Jeff Mangum was in Philadelphia.

Neutral Milk Hotel’s 2013-14 reunion tour is based on best selling hipster-anthem-album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Union Transfer was the ultimate opportunity to shoulder dance with small steps in one place to familiar songs with no other visual stimulation: No decorations besides a night-light shaped like a lamb in the background, but if you had more than one beer, you likely didn’t see it. Hopefully the lamb will be on the road with them for the next eight months as they travel the world touring with a 15-year-old album.

The group maintains its indie-cred since it’s still just unknown enough, or so we think, to be a big deal. In reality, even since the band broke up pre-y2k, most of the shrill fans were wrinkle free – both their shirts and their faces. Not many venue-approved bracelets to signify a primarily 21 + crowd, so it is fair to say that the majority of fans at Neutral Milk Hotel’s show at Union Transfer weren’t very old at the peak of the band’s popularity.

Jeff Mangum, the lead singer and guitarist, seemed to have gotten used to his years of touring solo and selling out small venues here and there for his quaint acoustic sets. He took the stage at times, just himself, a guitar, and the spotlight, without fellow bandmates Jeremy Barnes, drummer, Scott Spillane, trumpeter, or Julian Koster, who plays a variety of instruments on stage.

The quality of the show was worth the high price ticket, weird venue rules and long entrance line in 15 degree weather. There was no photography allowed and Union Transfer didn’t think ahead to bring in extra staff for a show with mandatory will-call, but none of it was bad enough to have made this show a non-worthwhile experience.

The group opened with “Two Headed Boy Pt. 1” and ended with “Two Headed Boy Pt. 2.” Throughout the 90 minute set, both die-hard fans who covet both of Neutral Milk Hotel’s albums could enjoy themselves along side the one-and-done “Holland, 1945” appreciators. The entire show was geared towards fan’s happiness and not towards selling or promoting a record. The gig was either a way for Neutral Milk Hotel to satisfy needy fans or just to score some extra cash knowing they could sell out a venue like Union Transfer in less than one minute (which they did, in August).

The opening act, Elf Power, had a dreamy psychedelic pop thing going on. A really nice looking group, they offered a variety of pieces from both their first album and their newest album, Sunlight On The Moon.

“My favorite time playing in Philly was in 1999,” said guitarist and vocalist Andrew Rieger. “A super wasted guy was on the back of the stage and was so drunk but wouldn’t leave. We eventually had to have him kicked off the stage. Of Montreal was getting into their van later and he was pissing on their van. The van had an Elf Power sticker so he must have assumed it was our van. I don’t know what happened to him, but if you’re here, this is for you.”

Originally published on JumpPhilly.com

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