Gig review: Neutral Milk Hotel

AN AUDIO message before the show asking gig-goers to put away phones and cameras – a request later repeated by Neutral Milk Hotel’s beardy indie godhead frontman Jeff Magnum with the cuddly explanation “I just want all of us to be together” – underscored the sense of this being a gig reliving bygone days.

Neutral Milk Hotel. Picture: Facebook

Neutral Milk Hotel - Barrowland, Glasgow


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There was no tweeting selfies from shows in the late 1990s, when these ramshackle American indie psych-folkies attained cult status for their album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which has been royally ripped-off since by all from Beirut to Bon Iver. Their recent reunion has been cause for worshipful celebration to some, but the group’s eccentricities and often harsh sound was never for everyone.

There are few noises in music shriller than the unholy aggregate of Magnum’s high, reedy rasp of a voice and trebly, overdriven acoustic guitar. More pleasant to behold was the way NMH weirdly and wonderfully ornamented their songs. Julian Koster weighed in with singing saws, banjo, accordion, synth, bass and silly hat. Jeremy Barnes and Scott Spillane – the latter a Biblically hirsute, red-faced chap who looked like he’d spent the last 15 years holidaying in Middle Earth – were on horns among a plethora of other musical toys.

With their most anthemic songs – Holland, 1945, Two Headed Boy, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – all dispatched in the first half, the set’s back end became increasingly a fans-only affair. Snow Song Pt.1 unleashed droney cosmic cacophony, before Ghost saw Barnes slay ‘em with a thrash electro-bagpipes solo, by which point you were either in raptures, or like me, merely mourning the temporary loss of the upper range of your hearing.

Seen on 19.05.14l

• Neutral Milk Hotel play the Corn Exchange, Edinburgh on 14 August