Reviewed on Thursday November 14
With the Enmore playing host to a veritable smorgasbord of indie rock royalty, it was little wonder the excitement could be felt bouncing off the walls as punters poured in. For the recently reunited Neutral Milk Hotel, this tour marked the first time the famously reclusive Jeff Mangum and co. had ever played on Australian shores. For many, it would also be the first opportunity to see alt-rock pioneers Superchunk, hitting Australian stages for the first time in 17 years.
After almost two and a half decades in the game, Superchunk show little to suggest any wear and tear. Refreshingly limber and joyfully enthusiastic, the quartet ripped through an animated set comprised of gems from their extensive back catalogue as well as showing off selections from newly released tenth album I Hate Music. “I used up all my banter last night, sorry,” laughs frontman Mac McCaughan between tracks. It matters not – the band’s discography is a goldmine of well-crafted songs, and experiencing them brought to life with such vigour was a welcome way for proceedings to begin.
M. Ward and band took the stage to an atmosphere of smooth crispness, as the California-born crooner’s smoky America stylings engulfed the room. Ward and band are lively, but one can’t help feel the singer-songwriter would be better suited to a more intimate setting than the Enmore.
With anticipation thick in the air, it was time for Neutral Milk Hotel to deliver the set that Australian devotees had been waiting years for. Opening with all three parts of the classic ‘The King Of Carrot Flowers’, Mangum was joined by the original lineup that featured on the band’s seminal 1998 album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Initially, the frontman seemed typically reserved, leaving his bandmates to stir momentum, before an undeniable smile peered out from beneath his thick beard and the sheer ecstasy of what was happening took over everyone inside the venue.
Over the next hour and a half the band played almost every track from Aeroplane as well as a slew of fan favourites from debut album On Avery Island and assorted rarities. Their onstage chemistry stands in contrast to the amount of the time the band members have gone without playing with one another. The time off has also done little if anything to damper the vocal cords on Mangum, who sounds decidedly refreshed.
Closing with beloved B-side ‘Engine’, the night had been everything a fan could have asked for. Impassioned and organic, this was the way Neutral Milk Hotel songs were meant to be heard.
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BY BLAKE GALLAGHER