Neutral Milk Hotel - Corn Exchange, Edinburgh, Thu 14 Aug.
Return to flying form for Jeff Mangum's troupe at Edinburgh's Corn Exchange
The mythology surrounding the demise and phoenix-like rebirth of Jeff Magnum’s troupe has always been steeped in a mix of hype and speculation, an anti-marketing anomaly which created a devoted cult following years after their hiatus – and given their recent spate of UK shows, including one to a shrieking, Beatlemania-like Barrowlands response back in May, it’s evidently clear that love for their southern gothic sermon is very much ongoing since the sleeper sensation of 1998’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which etched its way into the skulls of music fans the world over. It’s an offbeat, campfire concept record that juggles enough weirdness, anthemic catchiness and dismal sadness to retain its cultural and critical status 16 years after its release. But pish-posh, that’s all old news because Jeff and the beards are back, with a lot of pent-up energy.
Opening the show solo with ‘Two Headed Boy’, Jeff’s chorus pretty much grabs you by the cajones from the starting shot, but it’s not just a love-in with that certain LP tonight (admittedly it makes up a good three quarters of the setlist): there are also various cuts from 2011’s Ferris Wheel on Fire, including the title track and beautifully angelic ‘Engine’, with bowed saw accompaniment from Neutral Milk’s spinning and dancing human catherine wheel of a multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster.
You can’t really do anything but humbly gawp to both sucker punches of ‘O Comely’ and ‘Two Headed Boy Part II’, timed inevitably towards the end of their set. Two prolonged heart wrenchers that still pack an incredible amount of live brevity, even after all those years of trying to sing along to the extended vocals without passing the fuck out. It adds up to an excellent rendition of familiar and lesser played songs to a somewhat sterilised and tame Edinburgh audience. Auld Reekie, are you ALL on August valium? Sourpusses.