Photo courtesy of peterhutchins.tumblr.com
By Nick Stropko
So, it has happened. Years of anticipation, speculation, and blind hope have culminated, and the day has gone and passed. I have seen Neutral Milk Hotel.
Naturally, I have rapturous praise for the concert. Of course Jeff Magnum’s voice has retained it’s power, its winding intensity, its ability to reach just a little higher than it probably should and sell it regardless (he did have the slightest of problems during “Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 1,” but it really just served to humanize what has become a deified figure). Of course it was gratifying in a way Jeff’s solo shows were not to see the whole band together–Julian Koster rotating in place with his bass and playing the singing saw, Scott Spillane working an array of brass instruments, and Jeremy Barnes frantically keeping everything together. They really nailed the eclectic instrumentation present in NMH records, with the singing saw, zanzithophone, and electronic bagpipe, among many more, making appearances. Of course standing in a room full of people singing along to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” with Jeff Magnum is going to send chills down your spine. Of course, of course, of course.
However, rapturous praise is kind of boring. Pretty much every account of the show I have gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. Instead, I’d like to offer an array of stray thoughts I had during the show.
- While Magnum’s voice has certainly not lessened in intensity, it seems like his range has become ever so slightly more limited. I think a few of the songs were played a few steps down, and he reaalllyyy had to strain to hit that note in “Two Headed Boy, Pt. 1.”
- I can’t really tell if I like Jeremy Barnes’s drumming or not. Maybe I’m just being silly, but it seems like he has trouble maintaining the beat during fills. Is it possible that Jeremy Barnes is actually not a very good drummer at all? Is this just a weird stylistic thing that I’m not grasping? THIS IS OF GRAVE CONCERN.
- I really enjoy the stage dynamic of Neutral Milk Hotel. Jeff was pretty much unrecognizable–he received no applause when he walked onstage, his mess of hair making him look like a roadie in a fantastic sweater. He spoke little but seemed gracious, maintaining his weird indie god aura while not coming off as too stuck-up.
- Isn’t this whole tour kind of remarkable? Maybe this is well-tread ground, but I think it’s worth restating every now and again that a band can sell out major venues across the country largely based on the strength of a record they put out on an indie label in 1998.
- The “Ghost”–>”[untitled]“–>”Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2″ combo during the encore was phenomenal. Phenomenal. When I saw them break out the electronic bagpipe, I kind of freaked out and definitely sang along to a bagpipe part. No shame.
- Fuck it, I can’t think of anything else that’s negative. It was a really great show, and I’m thankful I got to see it.
If you missed out on Jeff and co. last week, fear not! They’re playing at The Mann on July 21st. I highly recommend you attend.
As you could probably tell, Communiqué has been on a bit of a hiatus recently. I figured I should probably give an explanation for that. As editor-in-chief, it’s solely my responsibility to upload content to the blog, as well as write much of the content and goad others into contributing. However, I’ve been neglecting my duties as of late because I’ve been busy studying abroad in Istanbul. While orientation left me little time to do anything, I should be moving to a more regular schedule which will allow me to pick back up with my duties at Communiqué. We have a whole bunch of posts coming up, so keep your eye on the blog! Thanks very much for reading.
Nick Stropko, Editor-in-Chief
By Nick Stropko
As I sat beneath the shade of a tent in Saunder’s Park last Saturday, slowly wilting from the midday heat, I couldn’t help but wonder one thing: why aren’t there more festivals in April? Despite the oppressive temperature (mid-90s and humid for much of the day), people were beginning to trickle in for the 7th Annual Lancaster Avenue Jazz & Arts Festival, a free concert that seeks to coax jazz out from its ivory tower and allow it to mingle with the community for an afternoon.
By Nick Stropko
My story with “Jessica” began on November 2, 2009 in Long Beach, CA. In the midst of a show-filled senior year of high school, I managed to snag a pair of tickets to see Vampire Weekend at the Art Theatre–a tiny, independent movie theater–on their weird 2009 California tour of small venues (I seem to recall at least one VFW, as well as a skate park in Lake Elsinore, on the list of dates). After school, a friend and I rushed home to change out of our Catholic school uniforms (gotta look cool for the V-Dubz concert!) and made our way to Long Beach.
By Nick Stropko
Animal Collective may be a household name at this point (well, among WKDU DJs anyway), but they’ve been releasing their warped freak-folk in different incarnations since 2000. Their excellent first album, Sprit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, is unfortunately a lesser-known entry in their catalog. While it is credited to Animal Collective, their debut is largely an Avey Tare affair—Panda Bear provides “perfect percussion” (according to the album credits), but everything else is handled by Tare. Knowing Animal Collective, it’s not surprising that the album sounds nothing like the rest of their catalog.
“April and the Phantom,” the album’s second track (and my personal favorite) is fairly representative of Sprit as a whole. It’s a study in dichotomy—almost every element rubs against another to great effect. The song opens with a high-pitched, sugar coated synth line before running headfirst into loud, jarring white noise. The clatter cuts away to reveal Panda Bear’s distinctive percussion—it’s aggressive in the frequency of his hits, but is tempered by his use of brushes. Meanwhile, chirpy, cheap sounding synthesizers sing over the track’s high end while Avey Tare relentlessly strums his acoustic guitar. Tare’s singing ranges from timid, sweet falsetto to outright screaming, with everything in between present. The lyrics are very much up for interpretation, but seem to be a schizophrenic love story, with lyrics split between a narrator, April, and the Phantom—with each voice being sung in a distinct style from the last (I particularly like the phaser [I think?]-laden harmonies during the Phantom’s part).
“April and the Phantom” is entirely bizarre, extremely captivating, and absolutely worth a listen. Stream it above.
Courtesy of Ars Nova Workshop // Ryan Collerd
By Nick Stropko
Last Saturday, I stood on the balcony of Johnny Brenda’s, watching a pretty unusual setup—a couple dozen old men, adorned in sequin-covered outfits and strange hats, setting up chairs, music stands, and sheet music on the cramped stage. As they continued to stick chairs in an increasingly claustrophobic-looking formation, musicians actually began setting up beside the stage, lining the floor with percussionists, the keyboard player, and a dancer. Yeah, it was pretty bizarre. However, it was also a fitting tribute to Sun Ra, the namesake and deceased former leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra.
See a full gallery of pictures after the break