Along with Radiohead’s “The Bends ” & “OK Computer”, Fiona Apple’s “Tidal”, and Ben Folds Five’s “Whatever and Ever Amen”, one of the definitive contemporary albums of my high school years was Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.” And I certainly wasn’t alone. Those albums made big impacts on kids my age all over the country at the time. It’s interesting to look back, in retrospect, what happened to each of those bands over the following decade and a half. Radiohead remained the giant that I always knew they were–but the rest of the world caught on in droves. Ben Folds Five broke up, but they all continued to make music in a less public manner. Ben still toured solo. Fiona Apple took a hearty hiatus here and there, which didn’t surprise anyone. We were happy when she chose to release new material and return to stages and everyone accepted that it was on her terms and no one else’s. But Neutral Milk Hotel. No one knew anything about anything. These guys dropped a couple of anthemic albums that became the soundtrack to so many of our young lives and then we never heard from them again. I don’t even recall them touring back in the late 90s when “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” came out. They disappeared…after hardly ever appearing to begin with…and somehow, every loner, alternative kid in the country knew every word to every song on that album. I suspect that very few people know the real and likely very complicated reasons that Jeff Mangum didn’t perform or release music for the past fifteen years–and it doesn’t really matter.
What matters now is that he’s chosen to return and to share the music of our formative years with us and a whole new generation of concert-goers. Austin was lucky to score two dates on what I believe is NMH’s first tour of this century (someone please fact-check me on that) this past Monday & Tuesday. Tickets to both dates sold out as quickly as they went on sale this past Fall. Thanks to Audrey’s lightning-quick ticket-buying trigger finger, all 3 of The Succulents attended the reunion. Between Mangum’s steady, unapologetic vocals (just like we all remembered,) the outright brass section and bag of tricks (including a melophone, electric sax, and metal saw & bow,) and the contagious enthusiasm on the stage rivaling that of the audience, it made for as memorable an experience as one would’ve hoped. The most powerful scene last night at ACL’s Moody Theatre: a sold-out room unified in song, hundreds of voices singing the songs we’ve all been waiting fifteen years to sing out loud. Together. It was a pretty special thing. I could hear Pete Seeger; “Participation–that’s what’s going to save the human race.”
Photo by Transmission Events.
Mangum has self-released a box set of his work available for purchase here.