Not Coasting By on Their Reputation, Neutral Milk Hotel Deliver

July 23rd, 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel – Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park Bandshell – July 22, 2014

Neutral Milk Hotel
In the glow of the so-called magic hour before sunset in Prospect Park last night, Neutral Milk Hotel appeared onstage before a sold-out crowd as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn summer-concert series. They have something of a magical status of their own these days, after their seemingly permanent hiatus miraculously came to an end about a year ago. Everyone from the original lineup that appeared on the band’s heralded 1998 album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was onstage together last night, along with supporting musicians helping to round out the songs with violin, trombone, accordion and more.

Of course the main attraction (aside from Julian Koster’s impressive singing saw) was Jeff Mangum, the frontman whose name over the past decade was most often preceded by words like enigmatic, reclusive, mythical and just about any other melodramatic adjective describing his retreat from the public eye as a performer. As a lyricist, Mangum has crafted much-revered songs like “Holland, 1945,” “Two-Headed Boy” and Aeroplane’s beloved title track, all of which elicited extreme reactions from last night’s crowd—from tears of elation to exuberant, completely un-self-conscious dancing and singing along.

Because the sacred aura that hovers around Neutral Milk Hotel and Mangum’s return is so prevalent, it’s worth noting that the live band does not simply coast by on their reputation. Neutral Milk Hotel delivered a solid, joyful performance of the songs that garnered them such a loyal fan base, with Mangum’s distinctive voice clear and powerful on songs like “Ghost,” “Oh Comely” and “King of Carrot Flowers (Parts 1, 2 & 3).” His stage presence was understated and humble, and he proved a naturally compelling performer—hopefully no longer a myth or mystery to so many fans, just a real person, a talented musician, whose songs have come to life on stage once again. —Alena Kastin

(Neutral Milk Hotel play Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell tonight.)