Show Review: Neutral Milk Hotel at the Ithaca State Theatre

The scene at Ithaca State Theatre after the show.
The scene at Ithaca State Theatre after the show.

A few of us from the radio station took the three-plus hour drive yesterday in order to see Neutral Milk Hotel play their first show for their global reunion tour in none other than Ithaca, New York.

Before covering the show itself I’d like to say that this was my first trip to Ithaca and I walked away very impressed by the city. There seemed to be a plethora of places to hang out, and the less-urban surrounding neighborhoods didn’t seem to be overly effected by the social scene which the city could boast for the night. Bonus points for having a cool pizza place which offered irregular toppings and friendly costumer service (I was owed $11.93 in change and they gave me $12, things like that are incredibly appreciated in my eyes).

The theatre itself had a large orchestra setting and a balcony raised above it, and although the show was seemingly sold out it wasn’t to difficult to maneuver around, get to the bathroom, or buy a beer when we first walked in towards the beginning of Elf Power’s opening set. The staff at the theatre weren’t numerous but they were well placed and helpful, and I was surprised by how efficiently they worked their way through the beer line where they didn’t charge outrageous prices.

Neutral Milk Hotel probably took the stage around the 9:30 mark (sorry for the lack of covering Elf Power, I enjoyed their set but I don’t have to much to say about it as I was pretty much just waiting for the headliner). The first thing that Mangum said to the crowd was to ask them if they’d like to stand, which was responded to by every single person on the ground level raising to their feet and crowding the available space both in front of the stage and in the aisles. Once again this could have been disastrous for an affair which was supposed to be seating required, but the fans were awesomely respectful of each other and their surroundings so that I didn’t see anybody who was annoyed by this turn in events. It led to many there having a more enjoyable experience, and the security staff deserves a lot of credit in my eyes for allowing the crowd to go through this experience as they could have easily stepped in to shut it down.

Someone next to me got their hands on Scott Spillane's setlist from the show.
Someone next to me got their hands on Scott Spillane’s setlist from the show.

The full ensemble of the band included guitars, saws, horns, drums, and I’m sure many other instruments as there was a plethora of interchanging musicians taking the stage for the different songs, although for the more intimate tracks such as the first 2/3 of “Oh Comely” it was only Mangum on the stage with his guitar. It was obvious that the group had spent a lot of time rehearsing their set as every movement seemed perfectly calculated and in time, with numerous members joining the stage mid-song in order to make their instrument’s entry point without there ever being a miscue (at least none that I heard, I might have been to busy screaming with my eyes closed though). Scott Spilane was singing along with Mangum without a mic throughout the entirety of the show if there was no horn part, which I enjoyed ¬†watching immensely, and Julian Koster would often have to frantically switch instruments mid-song but wore an immense smile through the entire affair. Koster also told the crowd that the band genuinely loved the town of Ithaca and their local record store Angry Mom records, which I’ve been told is a fantastic store but I can’t speak for personally.

The show was a truly great experience and the band still looked very capable of playing their material, to be honest I expected them to be more rusty than they were but the show felt like I was seeing them in 2002 in a world where they never went on hiatus. Post-show Scott Spillane was a very friendly man and an incredibly easy autograph to get, it was very appreciated by me to be able to walk away from the show with a crumpled up memento.

Yay for legible signatures!
Yay for legible signatures!

Arriving back in Albany at 3 A.M. and waking up at 8 for the work day was a hassle, but one that I and everybody else in the car were more than willing to accept in order to see this show. It was awesome, and the added energy and complexity of the full band made the show much better than a show which I’d already enjoyed immensely last year when we saw Mangum play solo at Mass MoCa. If you get a chance to see them on this tour I’d highly recommend it, just don’t be afraid to sing along! (I was surprised how many in the crowd wouldn’t dance or sing even during songs like “Holland, 1945″ and “Song Against Sex”)

P.S. If you were at the show and disappointed by the lack of closure on Julian’s joke, I’m pretty sure I know it because I tell a similar joke that I learned online. There’s a man with an orange for a head at a bar, and another man sees him and asks bartender how it happened. The bartender tells him that it’s a good story, and the man will probably tell it to him if he offers to buy him a beer.

He does and the man with the orange-head thanks him, and begins to tell this story

I was walking on the beach one day and I saw this lamp. I picked it up and rubbed it to see a genie come out and appear right before my eyes, and the genie proceeded to tell me that I had freed him from his trap, and thus he would grant me three wishes.

First, I wished for all of the money I would ever need, and poof, I looked down at my wallet and it was full of cash, jewelry, and deeds to houses.

I was glad to have all this money, but I decided that it wouldn’t be worth much if I didn’t have anyone to share it with, so second I wished for the love of my life. Not a few seconds passed and out of the sea walked the most beautiful woman I’d ever met laid eyes on, and the genie proceeded to marry us right on the spot.

At this point the man pauses and takes a sip from his drink and says

You know, I’ve been thinking this over and over in my head, and I’m pretty sure that this is where it all went wrong for me.

For my third wish, I wished I had a big orange head.

Thanks for reading everybody!

One thought on “Show Review: Neutral Milk Hotel at the Ithaca State Theatre”

  1. I saw Jeff’s solo show in Feb ’13 at the state theatre and this show. As far your statement of how surprised no one was singing or dancing, I for one was mesmerized and way too interested in absorbing every moment of this rare opportunity. I wish Julian’s band the music tapes would have opened like they did for Jeff’s solo show because elf power is pretty boring.

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