Gig Review: Neutral Milk Hotel w/ Superchunk & M Ward

Friday 15th November @ The Forum Theatre, Melbourne

Exactly a week ago, there was the biggest collection of happy hipsters that Melbourne has ever seen. ‘Why’s that?’ you mumble to yourself as you scroll through a myriad of hot singles in your area. Well, Neutral Milk Hotel, the cult indie-folk band from the 90’s was finally touring Australia. There have been waiting over 20 years for this moment, and now it was finally within grasping distance. Jeff Magnum was here, and he was here to party in the most alternative way possible.

Along for the ride were fellow Harvest Festival refugees M Ward and Superchunk. M Ward was the first to hit that stage, and to be concise, his music is nice and mild. There’s a chance you’ll become enthralled, but there was definitely the feeling that people in the audience were just politely nodding along to his music. M Ward’s songs just sort of meld together. They’re definetely intriguing because they’re undoubtedly good songs, but they’re too nice and plain to really immerse yourself in or get excited about. It’s like if Ryan Adams was a better guitar player but a little less balls. If Wayne Coyne become suddenly sane, wouldn’t let go of his acoustic guitar and adopted the personality of your childhood friend that is really nice, but you would never call up to hang out with, you would get something like M Ward and his lukewarm performance.

Next up where Superchunk, the 90’s riff band that never grew up. Fuck they were gooooood! Despite being obviously old as fuck, they persisted with a boundless energy that belied their age, and you couldn’t help but be swept up in their MTV golden-age fervour. They jumped around the stage of The Forum Theatre like it was their mum’s garage, bouncing off the walls and each other. If Weezer had an older brother that was way into punk music, then it would’ve been Superchunk. The gale-force riffs, and astounding energy of the band on stage was almost too invigorating, Superchunk just oozed genuine excitement. The set they played was mostly compromised of new stuff from their most recent release, this year’s ‘I Hate Music’ and 2010’s ‘Majesty Shredding’. However, for the fans that had been sticking around for a live Superchunk show for about a decade and a half, the band ended their set with a double whammy of ‘Slack Motherfucker’ and ‘Hyper Enough’. Superchunk proved that despite being old and bald, they can put on a rock show circa when buying CD’s and Guns N Roses were a thing.

Finally, after all these years, I, the Sydney-sider enjoyed the alt-country originator Jeff Magnum, and his assorted crew of acid-trip extras hit the Forum Theatre. As soon as those unmistakeable opening bars of ‘King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1’ broke out, (quickly followed by Parts 2 & 3) you’ve never seen more wide-eyed grins set under ironic moustaches in your entire life. There was a fucking mosh pit! At a Neutral Milk Hotel Show! WHAT!?

Shaggy, half-mumbled phrases of counter-culture poetry that Jeff Magnum warbles underneath a plethora of unconventional instruments (see: a saw, as in, the thing you cut wood with, played with a bow). Almost every song in the band’s catalogue was given equal presence and respect by both those onstage and off, and every person in the room was having the best of times. Although Magnum’s Sasquatchian looking face shrouded any sort of emotion, his multi-instrumentalist buddy (who looked all to similar to Badger from Breaking Bad) was a amoebic ball of energy, not settling down even for a moment.

The instruments and intrigue flew hard and fast: banjo’s, a brass section, a culmination of percussion…they all came and went as rapidly as Magnum could blast through his catalogue. ‘Song Against Sex’, ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ and ‘Holland, 1945’ excited the second-greatest reactions from the crowd, possibly because they’re the most upbeat and full songs of the two albums. I say second-greatest, because although the aforementionedhave a beautiful, swelling nature to them that worked so well in the acoustically-formidable Forum Theatre, it was ‘Two-Headed Boy’, and the encore of it’s second part, that were so romantically held by the audience. Performed completely alone by Magnum with his trusty guitar, these songs created a unity to the crowd, as they swayed and moved under Magnum’s spell-bindingly unique shambling voice and strumming.

Although not the best show ever, Neutral Milk Hotel killed it for what they were doing. Half sorrowful, half triumphant, the songs of Neutral Milk Hotel strike a strange dichotomy that few artists could attempt to pull off. However, with a sea of dedicated fans and an inherent musical talent, Neutral Milk Hotel ensured a show that could only be described as enjoyable.