Neutral Milk Hotel, Robert Schneider and The Minders
June 4th, Paramount Theater
A short three-hour sojourn from Rocket Science Alliance headquarters in Portland to the sun-soaked streets of Emerald City was all it took to finally be in the same room with genius recluse Jeff Mangum and his collective merry myth-makers - known to you, me and everyone as Neutral Milk Hotel.
Never having seen this band play live prior to this (I have absolutely no excuse, I know), I furiously pounded my credit card pertinents into the website touting this as the very last time anyone will ever see Neutral Milk Hotel play live ever again. This, I was told, will definitely be the last time Mangum and co. will be touring their beloved and inspired music around for eager ears. Hell if I'm missing this!
And thank gawd I didn't, since this show - taking place at the equally awe-inspiring and georgous Paramount theater was quite possibly one of the absolute best live music performances I've ever been lucky enough to witness. Not even sitting in the Paramount's cramped nose bleed section (more on this later) could dim the hyper kinetic electricity this band is capable of creating.
Portland-based Elephant 6 vet's The Minders took the stage first. No sooner had the first been strummed than it quickly became evident that lead master-Minder Martyn Leaper still very much deftly commands mastery over melody and harmony. Powering through songs old and new, The Minders closed out their opening set with the rollicking "Needle Bomb," getting the crowd on its feet and whetting it's appetite for the main event to come.
Soon after, Apples in Stereo's Robert Schneider took the stage with a cohort I didn't entirely catch the name of thanks to a Chatty Cathy behind me regaling her male companion (((loudly))) with tales of vodka, blackouts and emergency room visits. From what I understood, the guitarist to Schneider's right was instrumental in many an E6 recording and was now playing with in Schneider's new musical outlet, Ulysses. The two played a collection of mostly mellow acoustic guitar-based ditties between Schneider's nebbishy and humorous on-stage banter (centering mostly on Collective history).
|A photo not taken at the show.|
After Schneider and accomplice exited stage left, techs darted in and about, setting up last minute instruments for the show the capacity crowd was here to see. The lights eventually dimmed and a voice overhead reminded the audience to, as a favor requested by Jeff Mangum himself, not to use their cell phones to photograph or videotape the performance they were about to see. Judging by the HUGE flare flash later in mid-performance from one balcony-situated audience member's cell phone, a couple of people didn't get that message.
As the lights came up onstage, a lone figure shuffled out, army green cap slung low on his long-bearded face. The crowd cheered rapturously. As Jeff Mangum slung his acoustic guitar over his shoulder and strummed the opening bars to "I Will Bury You in Time," the crown clapped and cheered jubilantly. As the rest of the band ran on stage and the Mangum's solo blended into "Holland, 1945," the crowd went apeshit. Neutral Milk Hotel had us in its thrall.
Note-for-note, spanning two albums (and one in particular which made this band legendary), Neutral Milk Hotel's performance this night was absolutely spot on. The energy filling this volumonous cavern of a theater was infectious, to say the least. Mangum's high-register yelp sounded as glass shattering and precisely in-tune as it did on his albums, and that crazy collection of musicians along side of him were fuckin' amazing; Neutral Milk Hotel were fuckin' amazing.
So, back to those nose bleed seats: Taking the stage for the encore clapping hands and lack of house lights commanded, Neutral Milk Hotel blazed through a In The Areoplane Over The Sea's "Ghost." A couple of rows in front of me stood a guy in a puffy 1970's-esque ski vest with blue and orange stripes darting down the middle of his back. The power of the swirling, raucous music compelled him to take to his feet and dance with fists pumping piston-like in the air, his energy uncontainable. One, two, then three fellow audience members sheepishly joined him and faded-in to standing dance moves of their own. As his ranks grew to seven, a security guard stepped in all John Lithgow from Footloose-like to break up the celebration, ushering these rabble-rousers from their perch to the walkway above.
As "Ghost" swelled, the dancers, undeterred, started dancing again. This time, they were legion, joined by more and more audience members. People scurried up and down the steep incline of the balcony's stair to join them. A girl in a sleek green dress shimmied next to guy in glasses doing the shake. Here they were, a crowd of predominantly white people shaking their asses off without a care in the world.
As "Ghost" melded into "Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2," the mood soon became somber and meditative; the dancers once furious now swayed in the band's contemplative breeze. All the way back in the section of theater many bands ignore, Mangum and company had us - hearts, minds and bodies - under their spell.
THAT's the power of Neutral Milk Hotel.