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Neutral Milk Hotel/Jeff Mangum

If you’ve had the misfortune of being around me when I’m terribly drunk, you’ve probably heard me slur emphatically:

“‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea'” by Neutral Milk Hotel is my favourite work of art in the world, in any medium, ever.”

God but it is, peculiar, ugly-beautiful, with imagery rank and surreal, lyrics by turns introverted and weirdly celebratory, and great big orgasmic soundscapes. Orgasmic is the word, because the whole album is suffused with sticky, teenaged, fumbling sexual imagery. Despite being an album loosely based on telling Anne Frank’s story (she of the diary and the annexe and the holocaust tragedy), ITAOTS has always being curiously resonant, like a musical distillation of my psyche. My psyche is a strange place, yo.

“Your father made foetuses with flesh-licking ladies, while you and your mother were asleep in the trailer park.”

The album has been a musical confidante for 10 years now. I’ve changed a helluva lot, from an intensely lonely naif who’d never had a proper boyfriend, yet alone fallen in love, to a hardened, jaded ho-bag with a 1000 yard stare and a 1000 seedy stories to tell – but the album, like all good albums, kept up. It changed with me.

So seeing the driving force being Neutral Milk Hotel, front-man and lyricist Jeff Mangum, perform this weekend at All Tomorrow’s Parties after 13 years of nearly no live performances (notable exception being a gig to raise money to help Kiwi legend and stroke-victim Chris Knox. British folks: fall in love with Knox by way of this tune) was Quite A Big Deal For Me. It’s the first time, pre-a-gig, that I was nervous – anxious that Mangum would let me down, that the crushing weight of expectations of a girl who used to listen to his music in her bedroom on the other side of the world from him and weep 10 years ago could never be met.

“How strange it is to be anything at all”

Boy but did he deliver though. Boy. I saw him 3 times over 6 nights. Belting out lyrics with such intensity he looked like he was in pain, Mangum wasn’t a chatty performer, looking to woo the crowd with wit. He just sung his soul out, pausing only to smile at the crowd singing along, enraptured. Ex-NMH-er Julian Koster would run onto stage like a magical musical pixie and wordlessly contribute singing-saw backings, then scamper back off before the songs finished. Asked over dinner by Alex what I thought after the first time we saw him, I got three words into a response and burst into tears. Weird happy tears. Strangest experience of a falafel burger ever.

“But don’t take those pills your boyfriend gave you, you’re too beautiful to die.”

What I’m trying to say is this:

my friend Billy once described the joy of seeing Iron Maiden, who he very much loves, in concert, thus: “Ah, hell. Words can’t do this sort of thing justice. You had to see the light in people’s eyes after the gig. It was unique. It is something else entirely to genuinely know and love every song being played and experience a ridiculously awesome show. It was an immense happy making experience, and something I am very grateful to have experienced. I hope everyone loves a band this much, and gets to see them live sometime.”

I remember reading Billy’s description 3 years ago, and it sticking in my head.

I couldn’t put what it was to see Jeff Mangum live any better than that.

[Apologies/thanks to Billy for ripping off his words whole-sale. His fault for being such a damn fine blogger]


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