I probably don't have anything to say about smartphones at concerts you haven't heard before. And by that I mean, screw smartphones at concerts.
If you want to snap a quick picture, sure, whatever, go ahead and manufacture your online persona. But when you raise your arm aloft in a triumphant display of video recording, you have to know that glowing rectangle is distracting to everyone behind you. It'd be one thing if you were getting really good coverage for posterity, but a quick search of Youtube and Instagram uploads after most concerts proves that's probably not the case.
Top-down intervention is the only solution. So praise be to Neutral Milk Hotel for not only prohibiting photography but also refusing to be broadcast up on the big screens last night at the Hollywood Bowl.
The evening started with a super-short set from Daniel Johnston, followed by solid tunes from The Breeders, who sounded even better than at last year's FYF Fest. Kim Deal was in her usual charismatic form, even prompting the guy on my right to sigh, “She's so cool.”
After a quick break, a solitary figure walked out on the stage. Was it a guitar tech? No, it was the sometimes reclusive Jeff Mangum, frontman for Neutral Milk Hotel, who strapped up and immediately started strumming away at “I Will Bury You in Time.” Mangum's voice hit the studio notes, and his long beard and hair really filled out the artist-as-hermit look perfected by Brian Wilson.
Multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster did most of the talking for the first half of show, claiming a praying mantis had sat on Mangum's hat throughout sound check. Different musicians walked on and off the wide Bowl stage as the band worked its way through songs from their two studio albums.
Some of Neutral Milk Hotel's songs have always felt like half-thoughts, verses without choruses (or vice versa), though on the records all those ideas and moods build and blur into a wonderful, cohesive whole. But this can make it a little disorienting to hear the songs out of order live. Add to that a sound mix that was off for several songs — blame the praying mantis — and you have a show full of highlights but definitely not perfection.
The band had the Bowl's big screens blackened out, and while this might've been frustrating for people way in the back, it made the show all the more intimate. There was just band, and Bowl, and crowd. At least until the “Engine” encore, when many people said fuck it and grabbed a quick pic anyway.
Set list below
I Will Bury You in Time
The King of Carrot Flowers, Part One
The King of Carrot Flowers, Parts Two and Three
Ferris Wheel on Fire
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
A Baby for Pree / Glow Into You
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
Song Against Sex
Snow Song, Part One
Two-Headed Boy, Part Two