In the Roundhouse over the Sea: Neutral Milk Hotel, 21/05/14

22 May


Warning: this is pretty long. And while it’s technically sort of about the Neutral Milk Hotel concert at the Roundhouse last night, it’s also sort of not really about that and about the band as a whole. So if you’re looking for a proper gig review, that’s probably not what this is.

Now you know, let’s continue.

Last night, I went to see Neutral Milk Hotel at the Roundhouse and let me tell you, it was an experience. So much so, that it’s difficult to find the words to describe it. I know, I know – that’s one of the worst things that a journalist can say, particularly as, you know, it’s our entire job to find words to describe things. So with that in mind, I’m going to do the best I can. But if not… I’m sure you’ve all had concerts like this before. You’ll know what I mean.

The thing with Neutral Milk Hotel, is that they mean a lot to a lot of people. I think the concert was a Big Deal for everyone there – it was the busiest that I’ve ever seen the Roundhouse, for a start. Packed to the rafters, and very hot and sticky. Always rainy in England, except for when it’s not – and last night, it definitely was not. Neutral Milk Hotel disbanded in 1999, due to Jeff Magnum’s issues, and never really showed any sign of getting back together.

When I was 14 – bear with me here – I joined a music website, with people who were older than me and had more developed tastes in music. At this point, I was playing around with Jimmy Eat World and Green Day, dipping my toes into Blink-182 and feeling oh so totally punk rock and way more advanced than everyone else I knew, when it came to music. And then I started talking to people who knew more about music than me, and listened to a lot more bands than I’d ever heard of, and opened up their AIM transfers to me and recommended must-listens. Through this website, I discovered The Get Up Kids’ Something To Write Home About, and Modest Mouse’s The Moon & Antarctica, and The Shins and Gatsby’s American Dream and My Bloody Valentine and Animal Collective and a million other bands that I never even knew existed.

There was something very exciting about the first time I listened to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. It was like nothing that I’d ever heard before, and it opened up this whole new world of music to me – where it didn’t have to have pop-punky hooks, or even make sense on first listen. It was experimental, and nonsensical at times, and it was the same feeling that I’d only really had before when I was reading – it was pure escapism, and it was beautiful. It gave me shivers.

I truly think that In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is timeless, and I truly think it’s one of the greatest albums in existence. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy On Avery Island, or the EPs – Everything Is and Ferris Wheel On Fire – because I do. But Aeroplane was the one that meant the most to me.

I started listening to Neutral Milk Hotel in 2005, when the band had been on hiatus for six years. The next year, there was a hoax posted that the band would tour again. I honestly thought that they were one of the bands that I loved the most and would never get to see live (see also: The Get Up Kids).

When they announced this tour, I didn’t have very much money. I tried to get press tickets, but didn’t hear anything back. And then yesterday morning, the day of their first London show, I came to a decision. (I still didn’t have very much money.) I had to go and see them. It would be one of those things that I would regret if I did not. So I found a guy online selling a ticket, spent a quarter of that week’s rent money on it (I’m not kidding about this) and I went to go and see them.

Finally, we’re at the actual concert. I’ve been talking a lot here, I know.


Packed out at the Roundhouse

As I was saying at the start, the gig definitely felt like it was a Big Deal for everyone there. Even though at a concert, the majority of people are all there for the same reason, there’s not always a sense of community. Sometimes it’s tangible – like at Fall Out Boy’s first UK reunion show, in Camden last year – and sometimes you know it’s there but can’t quite feel it. Last night, though, it was almost another presence in the room. There was a sense of unity, a sense of shared experience. I don’t think I’ve ever felt something like that quite so strongly before.

From start to finish, it was amazing. Opening with ‘Two-Headed Boy’, and finishing with ‘Snow Song, Part One’ before returning for a four song encore, there were absolutely no criticisms to be made. The applause at the end felt like being in a stadium show, with the strength of it, and there was definitely an element of transcendence surrounding the entire night.

It reminded me of why I care so much about music, why I go to concerts, why I’ve made it such a big part of my life. For nights like this one. Nights where the audience sit in spellbound silence during ‘Holland, 1945’, dance along to ‘The King of Carrot Flowers, Part One’, share in appreciative laughter when Julian Koster fails to finish a complex joke about a man who’s head is half an orange (and makes a handsaw create some purely magical noises).

I won’t remember, in years’ time, the week where I had to pay my rent a week late and went slightly overdrawn on my bank account. But I’ll always remember the night when I saw Neutral Milk Hotel at the Roundhouse.

Two-Headed Boy
The Fool
Holland, 1945
A Baby for Pree / Glow Into You
On Avery Island / April 1st
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
Everything Is
The King of Carrot Flowers, Part One
The King of Carrot Flowers, Parts Two & Three
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Ferris Wheel on Fire
Oh Comely
Song Against Sex
Ruby Bulbs
Snow Song, Part One
Two-Headed Boy, Part Two


One Response to “In the Roundhouse over the Sea: Neutral Milk Hotel, 21/05/14”

  1. jordan kite May 28, 2014 at 11:50 AM #

    Interesting post keep it up! Thanks for share……..

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