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Breaking the silence

October 21, 2008

I need to talk about this.

This.

At the show on Saturday night, Jeff Mangum played a Neutral Milk Hotel song (“Engine,” the b-side to the “Holland, 1945” single, which some fantastic person had the good sense to film and host, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since) for the first time since a one-off show he did in New Zealand in 2001.

Before that, the last official Neutral Milk Hotel show (which Saturday was not, despite three of four members being present) was on New Year’s Eve of 1998. Before the crowd at the Brillobox this weekend, it had been a nearly a full decade since anyone had seen Jeff Mangum play guitar publicly.

And I was there.

In music and in pretty much everything else, first is not always the best. The best is the best, and the first is just a nice little footnote. While it’s difficult to characterize the bands in the Elephant Six Recording Company as a whole, it’s not uncommon or unfitting to see terms like ’60s revivalist or psychedelic pop thrown around. Obviously, bands like the Apples in Stereo and the Olivia Tremor Control were a little late to lay any claim to inventing these things, but they certainly added to the aesthetic, and they did things in such a way that they absolutely made it their own.

The Elephant Six heyday mostly took place before I was even in junior high, and I’ll count “shitty taste in music” among the billion things that preteen me might find embarassing if he had known better. In fact, I didn’t discover anything E6 until high school and didn’t really delve into the deeper parts of the catalogue until I left for college. Even though I was 11 years old when In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was released, I still feel a little guilty that I was so late to the party.

The Beatles and Sonic Youth have innovative feathers in their caps that Neutral Milk Hotel never will, by simple virtue of the fact that they established things (pop rock and noise rock, respectively). But while Mangum and co. certainly owe something to their influential forebears, there’s no doubt a reason for their existence. In the same way, while I will always be a bit jealous of those hippest of the hip who got on the E6 bandwagon so early, I don’t feel any need to rationalize my fandom.

I wasn’t first. I don’t own any rare early demo cassettes or autographs or anything like that. But that doesn’t marginalize me as a fan.

With that said, I’m still pretty fucking happy about what I saw on Saturday.

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