Neutral Milk Hotel Concert Review: Fights and Folk Music


Neutral Milk Hotel have achieved cult status for their acclaimed album In The Aeroplane Over the Sea. The album, released in 1998, has become a staple of the underground folk scene. It features a wide range of instruments and incredibly colorful lyrics. The album is inspired—at times blatantly—by the life of Anne Frank, the famous diarist of World War II. Now, onto the day of the concert. I left my town with friend on a bus to NYC, hopefully arriving a few hours ahead of the 7 pm concert to get dinner in the city and enjoy the atmosphere. Well, a wrench was promptly thrown as my friend realized he forgot his ticket. We got off the bus, and after an hour detour, we were back on. The traffic into the city moved ever so glacially, causing me to worry. In the middle of a Hell’s Kitchen intersection, the bus driver said into the intercom, “Ay yo, it’s gonna be like two more hours till this bus gets to Port Authority. If you got places to be, I highly suggest you get the hell off this bus.” Ah, the joys of public transportation. That was not the last time mass transit failed me that day because after another hour long debacle realizing the F train express went way too far into Brooklyn, we were finally at Prospect Park with scarcely few minutes to spare before the show started.

The concert was put on by Celebrate Brooklyn. While Celebrate Brooklyn is known for their free concerts, I can assure you that this one was very, very not free. The ticket price was set up to help fund more free concerts throughout the year, which seems to fly when you have a band like Neutral Milk Hotel where people are willing to pay.

The opening act was Circulatory System. They were a folk rock band of similar looks and sounds to Neutral Milk Hotel. I was right up close, and unfortunately for Circulatory System, no one really cared about them. The microphone was not working exactly right and no one could hear a word they sang or said, but my excitement for “The King of Carrot Flowers part 2” made me care just as little as everyone else. After their few songs, most of which sounded like a more indie Neutral Milk Hotel, they took their bows and left.

Before Neutral Milk Hotel came onto the stage, the show’s promoters showed a giant warning to all concert goers. It read, “UPON THE REQUEST OF THE BAND, NO PHOTOGRAPHY OR VIDEO RECORDING WILL BE ALLOWED.” I kept that in mind, knowing that I’d still take pictures anyway.

Neutral Milk Hotel came out and began going through their small repertoire of songs. They played the absolute musts: “King of Carrot Flowers Part 1” and part 2, “In the Aeroplane Over The Sea”, and “Holland 1945”. They also played a substantial number of songs from their lesser known and even lesser liked album On Avery Island. The only one I recognized was Naomi (unanimously regarded as the best song on that album).

Here’s when things went haywire. Light drizzle turned into an ark-worthy downpour. While cinematic at first, the downpour and the wet mess of the crowd became an uncomfortable experience. What I first thought was a camera flash was now, unmistakably, lightning. After finishing “Two Headed Boy”, the promoters came out and announced that they were going to delay this concert due to the weather. Hold up. This concert was supposed to be rain or shine. It says so on my ticket. I paid good money for this rain or shine ticket.

Rain delay.

“Due to severe cloud to ground lightning, everyone must evacuate the amphitheater. Once the storm has passed we will allow re-entry and continue the concert.” As soon as the promoter turned off the microphone, the boos and yelling came on louder than the music from before. Even if it was raining, no one wanted to leave. Leaving the amphitheater would mean two things: losing your spot in the crowd and potentially not coming back in at all if they cancel the show. I didn’t want to leave, but more importantly, I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I was right in the front blockaded by over a thousand people behind me—over a thousand yelling, drunk, wet people behind me, pushing forward to get under the overhang.

Security was the second star of the night. The no photography policy was strictly enforced. Wait- strictly is too weak of a word. It was brutally enforced. Anyone close to the stage caught with a camera or phone was given one warning. The second time you were seen violating the rule, you got the flashlight in your face and security came in and pulled you out. Yep. I struggled to sneak the few pictures I took (gotta get that social media gratification). My friend strategically stood behind a tall guy and was able to snap a few pictures as well. As the focus of the concert switched to the fact that we needed to leave for our lives, so did security’s focus.

Security became very pushy. They screamed, “LEAVE NOW!” and shined their bright flashlights right into everyone in the front’s eyes. Things got even harrier. As security began pushing, the crowd grew visibly angrier and more forceful. Things escalated and came to an incredibly violent peak. Security pushed a woman in the front, her son turned and punched the worker right in the kisser. The guard took it like you’d imagine, grabbed the kid by his throat and slammed him into the wet asphalt. The crowd parted like the Red Sea. People screamed, and in a funny twist of irony, took out their phones and began filming the rumble with security. Dozens of security guards ran in. Even the lead singer from the band, Jeff Mangum, came out from backstage and jumped in to try and break it up.

After the rain stopped and the lightning dulled to a dim thunder, the concert began again. Neutral Milk Hotel finished off most of their brief discography and left the stage. People staying for an encore were uninformed: they literally had no music left to play.

In the end, the concert was a surreal experience. The music was great, mostly because it is such a favorite of mine. The band was aging and this was their supposed farewell tour. I got to see a classic underground indie folk band, a beautiful New York summer thunderstorm, and a little bit of police brutality all in one evening. It’s hard to separate the band’s performance in my mind from the turbulent events of the night, but still I give the concert a rating of 9 out of 10, mostly for how much fun it was overall.