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Neutral Milk Hotel @ Vicar Street


Indie cult legends Neutral Milk Hotel paid Dublin a visit on Friday night. As elusive and mysterious as ever, they banned the presence of photographers and indeed any photo-taking devices whatsoever; the absence of tiny bright lights among the crowd proving a startlingly refreshing experience. Jeff Mangum himself is an enigmatic presence, skulking at the side of the stage, hiding behind his bushy beard and a cap that concealed his eyes. He barely speaks a word all evening, but that’s to be expected from a man who has shied away from the spotlight throughout his career, and it’s the music that we’re here for tonight.

The King Of Carrot Flowers Parts 1-3 gets things under way, proving something of a sluggish start, Mangum’s voice sounding just a little tired and husky whilst the thin distortion on the guitar created a trashy guitar sound that wasn’t particularly appealing. The brass section is flawless, the big bold, triumphant sounds holding together this sloppy opening. Holland, 1945 sees the group settling themselves, as Mangum shook off the early set shakiness in his voice and began booming powerfully as only he can. The eclectic instrumentation and frenetic drums lend an insanely energetic atmosphere to proceedings. The drumming is particularly interesting; rather than serving as a backbone for the other instruments, they are held together by everything else, and this creates a feeling that the whole song could collapse at any moment. However this loose style, rather than imploding in on itself, serves as yet another unique and appealing component of the Neutral Milk Hotel sound.

Two-Headed Boy demonstrates the fabulous appeal of Mangum’s voice, with the erratic melody jumping up and down, proving to be utterly mesmerising. Coupled with his distinctive, ‘choppy’ guitar style, you have an artist that can thrill and enthrall with just guitar and voice the way that no other artist can. Horns, percussion and accordions guide the song to its fantastic conclusion. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea features the haunting musical saw that captures the eerie ghostly mood the song generates. The untitled track from the end of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea closes the main set, with the uillean pipes imitating Mangum’s erratic singing style perfectly. The noise jam at the end of the song is a complex and strange experience that verges on the otherworldly.

The band wind down in the encore with Two Headed Boy Part 2 and Engine lulling the set to its gentle close. It’s hard to be as distinctive as Neutral Milk Hotel, the eclectic instrumentation, ragged drumming, wacky vocals and overall atmosphere are not something you come across every day. After a mediocre start, the band really pull it together, and produce one hell of a fine performance. Jonathan Klein