The headliner for Day 1 of HOSTESS CLUB WEEKENDER was the monumental band NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL. The elusive group, fronted by musical enigma Jeff Mangum, had all but disappeared following the release of their hugely acclaimed In An Airplane Over The Sea in 1998, only brief glimpses of the group appearing sporadically around the world since. The fact that they disbanded at the peak of their success following the release of Airplane merely served to increase the fervour of dedication that fans hold for this group, the exclusivity of their limited recordings and live performances rendering them something of a unicorn in the indie music world. Thus, their reunion has sparked a sequence of consistently sold out shows, Tokyo’s Hostess Club Weekender being no exception. The hall was packed to the walls, people unashamedly pushing to get as close as possible to the front of the hall. The atmosphere in the audience was one of pure joy and friendship, everyone bonding over their love for this band’s music and cheering particularly passionately for the poignant brass solos.
Neutral Milk Hotel’s first ever release was an EP titled Everything Is in 1994, and was basically a solo effort by Mangum. Their debut album On Avery Island was then released in 1996, and from this point the full band was formed and enjoyed some commercial success and extensive touring. Their second album, and one that would go on to be a worldwide success In An Airplane Over The Sea was released in 1998, and although it wasn’t met with immediate praise, the popularity that ensued meant that the band was forever adored by fans everywhere. Following the popularity gained by this album and a year’s worth of full-on touring, the group vanished, releasing no further albums or EPs until 2011 and playing no shows under the name Neutral Milk Hotel. It wasn’t until April this year that the group announced a reunion tour and proceeded to tour worldwide, the member lineup consisting of the same contributors to Airplane, Mangum as well as Julian Koster, Scott Spillane and Jeremy Barnes.
The set on Saturday night was incredibly passionate, goosebumps-inducing to the point of seizure at times, almost overwhelmingly emotional and powerful, nostalgic and familiar all at the same time. They opened with The King Of Carrot Flowers, Parts 1 through 3, and then to the absolute delight of fans, proceeded to perform a huge setlist which contained almost the entirety of In An Airplane Over The Sea and closing with Engine from their 2011 EP Ferris Wheel on Fire, a release of side tracks and previously unheard material from 92-95.
On Saturday night, the group made a point to discourage audience members from taking photos on their phones during the set, and also allowed no professional photography. They took it to the level of individually pointing out people in the crowd attempting to take photos and asking them politely to put it away, or giving them a thumbs down assuring fans a particularly negative shot. Singer Jeff Mangum announced, “Can you all just put your fucking phones away. Let’s just enjoy this moment together. That’s the one thing in the world I want.” Admittedly, it was refreshing to be able to watch a set without every man and his dog in front of you holding up their phone, and it certainly added to the intensity and intimacy of the show, but a more polite choice of words by Mangum would have been advisable.
The band seemed incredibly thankful for the reception they received, the adorably shy Julian Koster would skittishly approach the microphone to quietly yet gushingly thank the audience for their support. Neutral Milk Hotel now have extensive tour dates lineup up from now until August next year, taking them through all of the US and Europe.