Neutral Milk Hotel

support Samantha Crain
author LF date 07/08/14 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

When indie/folk rockers Neutral Milk Hotel announced a show in Denmark for the very first time, as part of the touring they're doing following their reunion last year, I was very intrigued. It's not really that I know a lot about them or their music, but rather that they've sparked my curiosity as I've seen them mentioned as major influences on bands like mewithoutYou and Brand New, both of which I absolutely adore. With a back catalogue consisting of just two albums and two EP's, it's an impressive feat in itself that they can return after fifteen years of absence and attract people to their shows easily. It's probably safe to assume that the long-lasting interest in them as a band is largely due to their critically acclaimed second album "In the Aeroplane over the Sea" which was released in 1998, shortly before they went on an indefinite hiatus. On their reunion tour they have returned with exactly the same line-up as they had during the recording of that particular album, and in Denmark it seems a lot of people have waited impatiently to get to see them, as the show tonight is close to sold out. Neutral Milk Hotel did not wish to be photographed on stage, so we bring you no live pictures this time.

Samantha Crain

The warm-up act chosen to accompany Neutral Milk Hotel on their tour is a somewhat peculiar singer-songwriter. Samantha Crain is absolutely alone on the stage with an acoustic guitar that she plays with the softest movements imaginable. Considering her small size, she fills the room surprisingly well with her strong voice which is not just pretty but has some stand-out elements akin to as different people as Björk and Robyn in it. She has a way of gliding effortlessly from the most intimate whispers to the loudest belting that is extremely expressive. This is especially clear on new song "When You Come Back" which stands out together with "Churchill" and "For The Miner", the latter of which was written for singer-songwriter Jason Molina whom she recommends everybody to check out. These three songs all stand out in terms of writing and intensity in the way she uses her voice and they really lift the show for me. She obviously enjoys telling stories, not just with her music but also in between songs and she sets herself apart in a memorable way by simply framing the songs she plays for us with short, quirky stories, that are more or less loosely related to how they came into existence. The audience who is slowly gathering during her set are up for singing along immediately when she asks for it, and she awakes my curiosity enough that I go straight home after the show and check her out in recorded form.


  • 1. Santa Fe
  • 2. Somewhere All The Time
  • 3. Elk City
  • 4. Songs in the Night
  • 5. For The Miner
  • 6. Never Going Back
  • 7. Churchill
  • 8. When You Come Back
  • 9. Lions

Neutral Milk Hotel

After a reminder that we're kindly asked to refrain from taking photos during the show, the stars of the night finally take the stage to great applause, and somewhat in line with their experimental, lo-fi music, they look like an absolutely eclectic bunch. Vocalist and guitarist Jeff Mangum is almost hidden in his cap and long hair and beard all evening, and this appearance adds some mystical power to the already strange lyrics of the songs he sings for us. Multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster, wearing a peculiar red hat seems to be in constant movement on stage as he casually jumps around in time with the more upbeat parts of the set, playing among other things the accordion, a singing saw and what I swear looks like a banjo played with a bow. Not a lot of time is wasted on talking during the compact set, and Koster is up until the very last song the only member of the band who delivers a couple of thank you's between songs, that all sound extremely heartfelt. Scott Spillane, sporting a strutting and completely white beard is in control of all sorts of horns, helped out by a touring musician who also covers a bunch of keyboards and organs throughout. When he is not playing an instrument himself, he is rocking back and forth and mouthing the lyrics sung by Mangum with a dedication I've rarely seen in any other band-member. Finally, drummer Jeremy Barnes sits on a podium behind them all, sporting a massive moustache and laying the solid framework that binds all these instruments together.

Most songs from "In the Aeroplane..." are played tonight intertwined with a good part of the songs from their previous album "On Avery Island". Many of them have some pretty strong lyrics set over melancholic moods, and the vibe I get from the band's performance of all this is twofold. On one hand they seem like they have an immense respect for the act of recreating their music in a live setting like this, and they take the act of communicating their music to the audience seriously, for instance sometimes gently shushing people who wants to clap during more silent parts. But at the same time, they look like they are having a lot of fun and a lot of love for doing it and this translates to the audience immediately, as they're singing along all around the room from the very start, dancing to the up-beat songs and swaying entranced to the slower ones. The energy seems to be flowing freely between every member of the audience and every member of the band, and it is simply a magical experience, that every person in the room seems grateful to be a part of. The show is short, as the band-members have only played for roughly an hour when they leave the stage to return later for an encore of four songs. This, the band's attitude, the crowd's attitude, and the little time spent on anything but the music makes it a very intense show, and I find myself stunned when I realize they aren't going to play anymore tonight. But maybe that's really part of their charm. As mentioned before, they have only released two albums, and the high quality of this material just doesn't allow for songs to be included that could effectively water down the experience. As a band, to be able to play this much of your total material in one set and get a reaction like the one in Vega tonight is nothing short of impressive and I leave the venue transformed from being a person having interest in them purely out of respect for their status in the scene, to a person who feels extremely fortunate to have experienced live the magical band that is Neutral Milk Hotel, and who might very soon become a genuine fan.



  • 1. The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One
  • 2. The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three
  • 3. Holland, 1945
  • 4. A Baby For Pree
  • 5. Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
  • 6. Everything Is
  • 7. Two-Headed Boy
  • 8. The Fool
  • 9. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
  • 10. Naomi
  • 11. Ferris Wheel on Fire
  • 12. Oh Comely
  • 13.Song Against Sex
  • 14. Ruby Bulbs
  • 15. Snow Song Pt. One

- Encore

  • 16. Ghost
  • 17. Untitled
  • 18. Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two
  • 19. Engine

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