As previously discussed, and still un-believed, Neutral Milk Hotel played a show in Birmingham, Alabama last night. I was there. I saw it.
So this show, that definitely actually happened at Iron City, was pretty good. I couldn’t let the thought of how improbable this event was leave my head. I kept expecting a nervous man in a wrinkled shirt to come out before the show and say “Um, we are sorry to say that Neutral Milk Hotel has decided to play in Nashville tonight. You’re just not ready, Birmingham.”
But we were. The crowd was rowdy and yet still respectful. There were some Roll Tides, and I died inside a little bit. But that just happens here. The band remarked how much they liked us. I don’t know if that was stagecraft or genuine, but it felt like an appropriate appraisal of the crowd. I’ll take it.
There were electronic bagpipes, saws being played, and- I can’t overstate this- the best beard in the business. Scott Spillane had that beard 15 years ago.
He has it now as well.
Did he have it the whole time? Or at some point in late 2011 did he receive the call from Mangum and immediately shave off the unnecessary parts to recapture the boldest beard I’ve ever seen? I mean you don’t go to the grocery store with that beard unless you are ready for some serious, serious looks. That beard says, “I’m in Neutral Milk Hotel, I play 5 different kinds of horns and there is nothing you can do that is more awesome.” As someone with a beard, maybe one day I’ll have the courage to go Full Spillane.
I applaud you. I celebrate you.
So the show. The show was great. When I saw Mangum before it was just him and Spillane and very much an acoustic set. It felt like church. This, this was different. This felt like more of a carnival. A revival tent instead of a stately cathedral. They played some of my favorite two minutes of music ever, the Untitled track from Aeroplane. They played Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone, my favorite from the first album. There was definitely a lull as they played some b-sides near the end, but I can’t imagine someone leaving that show and being mad that they didn’t play a certain song. They only have two albums and some b-sides to choose from, and I feel like they chose well.
Here’s the setlist.
I really don’t have anything more insightful to say. I spent most of my time looking at Scott Spillane’s beard. And Julian Koster playing the living hell out of a saw. I kind of want to play a saw now. Neutral Milk Hotel requested that no one take photos or videos. Birmingham seems to have obeyed this request, but those lawbreakers in Richmond, Va. felt differently. Despite my reticence to glorify such bad behavior, this clip gives you a good example of a man wailing on a saw.