Monday, May 31, 2010

Neutral Uke Hotel Live at the Armory in Somerville, MA

Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a bombastic haunted oddity that many have become obsessed with. Most fans never even had a chance to see it live, since a year after its release, songwriter Jeff Mangum became reclusive. For one night at the Armory in Somerville, Neutral Uke Hotel became a way for people to experience it live, from start to finish completely on ukulele. The man behind the project, Shawn Fogel, said one of the main goals was gathering as many rabid fans together in one room as possible and seeing what happened.

The result thankfully wasn’t a cover band trying to sound like Neutral Milk Hotel, but more of a melodic and captivating interpretation of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Fogel and Josh Cohen are part of the New York based Golden Bloom. Cohen played the melodica, or blow piano, in place of the unusual sounds with equally unusual names, such as the wandering genie, zanzithophone and uilleann pipes. Joining them were members of Boston’s The Motion Sick. Mike Epstein followed on bass Ukulele with some wild facial hair about which he said, "My moustache does most of the work for me, if it can stay in tune." Also from the Motion Sick was Matt Girard, who encapsulated about six different horn parts into one trumpet. The arrangements may seem gimmicky at first, but it really emulated the same quirky aesthetic that defines Neutral Milk Hotel.

Most of the decisions made for covering a band with such a unique sound were tasteful. “I knew the hardest part was going to be playing it and not singing it like I’m trying to sound like Jeff Mangum,” Fogel said. Where Mangum goes flat, Fogel actually hit the notes and correctly pronounced words that Mangum has his own unique way of singing. It confirmed that it he is saying ‘pretty’ instead of ‘bratty’ on ‘Oh Comely.’ “Jeff has a very distinct and very unique voice,” Fogel said. “I know that people connect to his voice because it’s very honest, you know, there’s no bullshit in it.”

Most of the audience looked enraptured, singing along the entire night. “Usually when people sing along to songs they love there are always little pockets of,” Fogel starts incoherently mumbling like someone who thinks they know the words. “There was not a single moment where I didn’t see at least someone knew what was going on.”
The group played the album without a word in between, even adding a distortion pedal for ‘Holland, 1945.’ For an encore, they played a couple of unreleased tunes, with Mike Epstein even singing on ‘Oh Sister.’ The song contains a lot of connections to the album and Epstein gave a lengthy but interesting explanation. It’s sung from the perspective of one Siamese twin comforting the badly abused other. Together they are the ‘Goldaline’ from the last section of ‘Oh Comely.’ “It's hard to understand how their experiences differed that greatly,” Epstein joked.

At the very end, Fogel encouraged the audience to meet each other saying, “You now know you all have at least one thing in common.” As the audience was filtering out, he sat down with his bandmates and the acoustic loop opener, Daniel Harris, to tell the stories of how they each found Neutral Milk Hotel, which after a while eerily started to sound like recalling first sexual encounters. The group planned to have the show be only a one night event, but the response has been so overwhelming that they booked a small east coast tour. When asked if he would ever think to invite Jeff Mangum if they made it down to Athens the group joked, “You’d have to find him first. I’m not sure if he really exists.”

You can catch them again in Northampton, at the end of this short tour:
Tuesday, 6/15 - Mercury Lounge - New York, NY
Wednesday, 6/16 - Rongovian Embassy - Trumansburg, NY
Friday, 6/18 – NXNE Painted Lady - Toronto, ON
Sunday, 6/20 - Mohawk Place - Buffalo, NY
Tuesday, 6/22 - The Khyber - Philadelphia, PA
Friday, 6/25 - The Basement - Northampton, MA

Here are a couple of videos produced by the band:

1 comment:

Justin Snow said...

Fantastic review. Wish I could've made it out.

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