Neutral Milk Hotel @ Union Transfer

Faithful followers and comrades rejoice, for your leader and god among men has christened this unholy land with a renewal of ironic beards. He has brought forth to us the sight of good will sweaters and the heavenly scent of stale Pabst. Behold, all, for Jeff Mangum was in Philadelphia.

Neutral Milk Hotel’s 2013-14 reunion tour is based on best selling hipster-anthem-album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Union Transfer was the ultimate opportunity to shoulder dance with small steps in one place to familiar songs with no other visual stimulation: No decorations besides a night-light shaped like a lamb in the background, but if you had more than one beer, you likely didn’t see it. Hopefully the lamb will be on the road with them for the next eight months as they travel the world touring with a 15-year-old album.

The group maintains its indie-cred since it’s still just unknown enough, or so we think, to be a big deal. In reality, even since the band broke up pre-y2k, most of the shrill fans were wrinkle free – both their shirts and their faces. Not many venue-approved bracelets to signify a primarily 21 + crowd, so it is fair to say that the majority of fans at Neutral Milk Hotel’s show at Union Transfer weren’t very old at the peak of the band’s popularity.

Jeff Mangum, the lead singer and guitarist, seemed to have gotten used to his years of touring solo and selling out small venues here and there for his quaint acoustic sets. He took the stage at times, just himself, a guitar, and the spotlight, without fellow bandmates Jeremy Barnes, drummer, Scott Spillane, trumpeter, or Julian Koster, who plays a variety of instruments on stage.

The quality of the show was worth the high price ticket, weird venue rules and long entrance line in 15 degree weather. There was no photography allowed and Union Transfer didn’t think ahead to bring in extra staff for a show with mandatory will-call, but none of it was bad enough to have made this show a non-worthwhile experience.

The group opened with “Two Headed Boy Pt. 1” and ended with “Two Headed Boy Pt. 2.” Throughout the 90 minute set, both die-hard fans who covet both of Neutral Milk Hotel’s albums could enjoy themselves along side the one-and-done “Holland, 1945” appreciators. The entire show was geared towards fan’s happiness and not towards selling or promoting a record. The gig was either a way for Neutral Milk Hotel to satisfy needy fans or just to score some extra cash knowing they could sell out a venue like Union Transfer in less than one minute (which they did, in August).

The opening act, Elf Power, had a dreamy psychedelic pop thing going on. A really nice looking group, they offered a variety of pieces from both their first album and their newest album, Sunlight On The Moon.

“My favorite time playing in Philly was in 1999,” said guitarist and vocalist Andrew Rieger. “A super wasted guy was on the back of the stage and was so drunk but wouldn’t leave. We eventually had to have him kicked off the stage. Of Montreal was getting into their van later and he was pissing on their van. The van had an Elf Power sticker so he must have assumed it was our van. I don’t know what happened to him, but if you’re here, this is for you.”

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Why? @ Union Transfer.

Why? came to Philadelphia last week and proved that frontman Yoni Wolf could probably rewrite the standard for prancersize.

Why? is on tour for about two weeks but not to promote an album. This short fall tour seems like Why?’s way to keep a strong fan base and have some fun performing. And they really do always look like they’re having a ton of fun.

The band draws longtime fans who sing their hearts out to every obscure song, even ones from Rubber Traits, a 2006 EP not everyone could place. Not surprisingly, Why? played their hot sing-alongs like “The Vowels, pt. 2” from Alopecia and “Strawberries” from Mumps.

“It’s always great to come back here,” said Yoni Wolf. “We have family here. Our parents are from here. It really does feel like coming home.”

The audience was mostly quirky-looking people of all ages. Awkward dancing was the common trait, as though the crowd was trying to emulate Yoni Wolf’s stage personality.

Preceding Why? was an ‘80s inspired ambient group, Grimace Federation. The Philly-based duo built on their downbeat trance songs slowly over 20 minutes until suddenly, the room was as energetic as a Lady Gaga concert. The lights flickered lightly over the crowd, getting brighter and more consistent as the group went on.

Dessa followed with powerful vocals and solid band backing. Margret Wander, known as “Dessa Darling” on stage, performed original songs with a sick flow and thoughtful harmonies with her backup singer, Aby Wolf. The group had its own fans at the show. Dessa was more than an opener for a lot of people that night.

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