Hotel Milk is Nuetral

Beneath the neon sign of Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom, a gargantuan line of people stretches to the end of the block. Faces glow with anticipation as far as the eye can see, waiting for the doors to open. Within the crowd, two women, each with outlandishly colored hair, one with purple streaks, the other a delightful bright green, converse with each other while leaning against a wall.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do!” One of the girls says.

“Let me guess,” the other girl replies, “you’re going to scream along with all the songs and cry?”

Stories like this one are as easy to gather as they are to tell, but they do nothing to express the feeling of waiting for such a show. There is a communal resonance among the people waiting for this once in a lifetime experience, a culmination of emotion, and one not spent in vain.

This line is for Neutral Milk Hotel, a band just as revered as it is reclusive, and as confounding as it is captivating, and they’re back together for the first time in 15 years.

For those who don’t know, Neutral Milk Hotel is an acclaimed band formed in the early 90s by singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum and a rotating group of musicians and friends, most of whom have their own successful bands. The band released two full-length albums, On Avery Island” and their highly lauded magnum opus, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” before disbanding.

Years passed, and there was nothing, not even a glimmer of hope, as to a reunion. The other members moved on to other projects, and Mangum, despite the love of his fans reaching near worship, became a recluse. It appeared as though the books were definitively shut on the Neutral Milk Hotel story. That is, until now.

Neutral Milk Hotel struck me almost immediately upon listening to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” album. Their power is as indescribable as it is palpable. Their sound is like a swirling cloud of precise pandemonium, calling upon several instruments uncharacteristic of rock music: accordions, singing saws, bells and orchestral horns, to name a few.

The lyrics, along with Mangum’s hauntingly emotive voice, are what really endears this band to me. The stories told in these recordings make no linear sense, yet they are possessed with such affection and passion, delivered in such a way, that they are moving despite their confounding nature. They affect in much the same way a dream affects.

It is to be expected that such a band would have lost energy after so many years of hiatus, but Neutral Milk Hotel has always confounded expectations, and I am happy to say that this reunion continues that trend. The show was steeped in energy from start to finish, the band still sounding as fresh as if their last album was recorded yesterday. The most striking detail, however, is the communal atmosphere of the show. There was an absolute kinship permeating the whole show, with the entire audience singing along with nearly every song. The band, despite its long absence, seemed to be nothing less than the best of friends, playfully striding about on stage. The whole experience was magical. This band is, simply put, a treasure. Seeing this show made me feel lucky not just to be there, but to be alive. That’s a power very few artists can achieve, and it is one that was nearly lost in this case. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Neutral Milk Hotel is back, baby!