REVIEW: Neutral Milk Hotel + M Ward + Superchunk | Tivoli Theatre 12 November

The collapse of Harvest Festival left many ticketholders, including me, bewildered and saddened at the passing of Australia’s largest boutique festival. Yet a few remnants were salvaged to form one of the strangest triple bills to date. An odd mix,– Superchunk, who haven’t played in Australia in 17 years, M Ward, who can draw a healthy crowd on his own (with or without Zooey Deschanel) and Neutral Milk Hotel one of those elusive bands many people thought they’d never experience live.

It was a fitting choice to place Superchunk at the beginning of the evening – arguably, being the more renowned act, with their frantic yet charming brand of indie rock. It was a delightful way to roll the crowd into the Tivoli and given frontman Mac McCaughn’s 46-year-old physique he sure doesn’t act his age: jumping, windmilling and dashing all over the stage while pelting out some of the band’s best from the their back catalogue. For Tension and opener Cast Iron were clear standouts and showcased the bands unmistakeable talent. Superchunk were super tight, pitch perfect and a welcome opening act.

Only knowing a song or two from M Ward, I was sceptical to see how well the transition of energetic power-rock to laid back alt-country would turn out. Yet as soon as the opening chords of Poison Cup filled the theatre, my suspicions gracefully floated away to the beat of Ward’s majestic vocal talent. Strangely enough, M Ward was outshone by his own backing band – the sheer talent from the acoustic and bass guitar players as well as the drummer proved that M Ward was certainly not the main attraction during this 40 minutes of euphoric country hits.

This was Neutral Milk Hotel’s first ever Australian show and hearing those first oaky guitar plucks of King of Carrot Flowers Part One gave me chills down my spine. The band haven’t had a press photograph since the ‘90s, so it was odd to find frontman Jeff Mangum walk on with half his face covered with an untamed beard and truckers hat. Although his appearance wasn’t matched, his voice was. To add to this, an impressive list of equipment and instruments were used, mainly played by Julian Koster and Scott Spillane, throughout the night including: accordions, moog synthesisers, fuzz bass, singing banjo and saws as well as an arrangement of horns.

Never have I seen such an astounded audience in this setting. After cult classic In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, NMH actually had to wait for the crowd’s applause to cease. Tracks from their seminal 1998 record of the same name seemed to be received better, but it felt like each person in the audience had their own personal attachment to a song and the feeling of seeing it live made for some unforgettable experiences.

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