Observations at a Neutral Milk Hotel show

I had the pleasure of seeing Neutral Milk Hotel perform at Brewery Ommegang this weekend. I actually don’t have much to say about NMH’s actual performance besides that it was great. If you were ever on the fence about seeing them live because they are a reunion act now, my recommendation would be to go. They played every song that you would want them to with a verve of a much younger act. I had one criticism though: it was kind of messed up that George R.R. Martin was playing with them. I know Mr. Martin has been very defensive about how he spends his time while his fans wait for him to finish A Song Of Fire And Ice, but touring with a band just seems to be flaunting it. The show is going to catch up!

This was taken from at a different show, but I think the joke still works. source

All this being said, there were a lot of things I noticed that had nothing to do with the band I went to see. Growing old is a terrible thing. Going to concerts in my mid-30’s not only highlights how old I feel, but how much concert-going has changed since I started seeing shows as a kid.


I have mostly praise for the venue. Things seem to be well organized and running smoothly. My friend Dave said that this was the smallest crowd he had seen at the four different Brewery Ommegang shows he had attended, so this may have been a contributing factor. The food and beverage was of a good price and variety for this type of event (a minor league ballpark markup let’s say). That being said. I was a little disappointed that none of Ommegang’s more traditional Trappist-style Belgian brews were available. A show at Brewery Ommegang sounds more enticing than a show in the middle of field almost two hours away on I-88. Ommegang clearly wanted to highlight their Belgian roots, selling fries frites-style in a cone with aioli, but stopped short of offering their flagship product. The beers that were on sale were tasty and reasonably priced, but I would have paid a few dollars more for an Abbey Ale or a cup of Three Philosophers.  I guess there are probably some issues with serving potent, expensive beer at a concert, but I think in this case that could be reasonably expected.

You could camp there if you wanted, but we passed because my friends’ past experience camping there doesn’t sound like it was too much fun. The weather is never very good in Central New York and camping assures that you’re penned in with every A-hole who went out of their way to be too drunk to drive home.

Opening Act

The opener was Brian Dewan. Mr. Dewan is a singer songwriter who can best be described as a perennial opening act for They Might Be Giants. I love TMBG like the good little nerd that i am, but they draw a lot of ‘quirky’ openers that rely on gimmick over songcraft and performance. Dewan falls into this camp and I was flabbergasted to see he was opening for indie rock luminaries, let alone still playing music professionally . The connection to Neutral Milk Hotel became clear when the headliners thanked Dewan for designing their iconic phonograph with wings image from the liner notes of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Absent that, however, Brian Dewan’s performance seemed out of place and called into question the notion of an opening act in general.

I'm just saying music might not be Brian Dewan's greatest talent.
I’m just saying music might not be Brian Dewan’s greatest talent.

A Benevolent Brotherhood of Man

I had a lot of very mixed opinions about the crowd. A lot of times you go to a concert and you can really see yourself in the other people who like the same bands as you. This was not the case here. Do you know that thing where fat hippies are basically entitled bros who don’t take very good care of themselves? There were a lot of Andre-looking dudes who were a little too happy with how their lives have ended up.

In addition to the Andre types, a lot of the crowd was older than me. While I generally welcome that at shows because it translates to less pushing and shoving, I’m worried that the olds knew that and were taking advantage of this situation. First of all, they had lawn chairs. Some people were camping and there was a lot of open space, but there were many people who set chairs up an unsafe distance from the stage. During the opening act, this was a nuisance. During the headliner, it was dangerous. The problem was eventually self correcting, but still. Unless these people had made it through the first 40 years of their life never going to a general admission indie rock show, they should have known better.

Suffer Little Children

The other thing that the older crowd did that drove me crazy was bring small children. When I saw small children, I mean infants and toddlers. I will be the first to admit that I don’t know anything about parenting. I can’t authoritatively say if this was bad parenting, but I doubt such proximity to second hand smoke, drunk people, and loud music go in the good column.

I’m giving the parents the benefit of the doubt by assuming they paid attention to their kids the whole time, but I’m suspicious of that too.   The last time I went to show with this kind of setup, it was for Bright Eyes and The Mountain Goats at a farm outside of Burlington, VT. Every mother I saw there stopped paying attention to their children the second Conor Oberst launched into “Lover I Don’t Have To Love.” There were implications that went beyond just leaving your child unattended.

This brings me to my greater point: it might not have been bad to bring your children, but I guarantee you that they hated it! I may not know anything about parenting, but being childish is one of my core competencies. I argued with Dave about this at the show. When I said people should have left their kids at home, he countered that this is exactly what he would do: bring his kids to all the things he enjoyed so they would have fond memories of them as well. What I forgot at the time is that Dave’s father made him take golf lessons for years and to this day he hates the sport. Sometimes kids like what their parents do. Other times they hate it. I don’t know exactly how this works, but I do know that forcing kids to do things because you find them fun probably isn’t the right way.

Next time, spring for the sitter. It could not have been much more than a ticket for your kid.

Have I Not Been Judgmental Enough? Then Please, Read On

The older folks were also the majority of the people who struck up a conversation with my friend Dan based on the throwback Everton jersey he was wearing. I mention this because an indie rock reunion show is a prime breeding ground for European Professional Soccer Hipsterism.

I’m not decrying people who were cheering on their country during the World Cup or the growing popularity of the MLS (particularly in Seattle and Portland). I’m talking about deciding that you now like soccer and bandwagoning onto a team from the EPL or elsewhere in Europe. You will never see them play in person and until last year you probably could not watch them live on television. That’s not fandom, it’s a weird performance smacking of liking something specifically because it’s not popular in America. Imagine traveling abroad and seeing a young Londoner in a pub wearing a Miami Dolphins jersey. Ironically or unironically, that’s just horrible.

In Which I Surprisingly Don’t Hate Something

With the exception of when I went to Las Vegas last year, this show had the highest concentration of “vapers” (vapes?) I’ve ever been around in my life. I had a fairly negative view of so-called e-cigarettes before this show. I didn’t have a thought out reason as to why, it just seemed like kind of a douchey thing to me. With the increase of stricter smoking laws over the course of my lifetime, I am rarely surrounded by smokers in public anymore. As someone who wants to launder their sweaters as few times as possible, I find this a positive trend. Outdoor concerts are pretty much the only place I am in close proximity to a large group of smokers anymore. Having a portion of the crowd discretely vaping instead of smoking actual cigarettes meant I was surrounded by fewer smokers than I would have been normally. E-cigarettes are not without controversy, but I am currently in favor. Ask me again when I have my own kids, though.

It may also help that they stopped designing them to look like real cigarettes and started making them look like Star Trek props
It may also help that they stopped designing them to look like real cigarettes and started making them look like Star Trek props

A Brief Foray Into Drug Policy And Racism


It goes without saying that not everything people were smoking was strictly legal. It’s obvious the war on drugs is racist when you look at the nonexistent law enforcement at music gatherings attended primarily by whites compared to the draconian punishments of minor drug use in the ghetto. This isn’t exactly a new conversation, but it’s one I’ve personally seen more people participating in, specifically in the wake of Ferguson. Add me to the chorus of people with an eyewitness account of this inequality. Not including staff, I saw maybe one or two people of color in a crowd of thousands. I could smell or see people smoking pot practically the entire time I was onsite. They checked bags upon entry but didn’t check coats, pat people down, or have metal detectors. The only time I saw a security guard wade into the crowd was when one concertgoer stood on his friend’s shoulders. If you guessed what US drug policy was strictly by coming to a big outdoor concert attended by a lot of white people, you would assume marijuana was legal. People seem to have a good time without hurting each other at this shows; maybe it should be the actual law.


I feel bad saying this, but my hands down favorite thing about the experience besides Neutral Milk Hotel was that the show ended before 9:45 pm. As far as I can tell, rock shows have always been a cynical way in which promoters extract food and beverage revenue from people that have already had dinner and want to see some live music. The only other group I’ve seen that came close to giving a full concert with such a prompt schedule was Radiohead. Based on this data set of two, getting your fans to bed on time is the surest path to becoming unassailable critical darlings. All other bands take note.

Comedian Greg Behrendt has done a bit for year about the adult rock show. I used to find it unfunny. It still doesn’t make me laugh, but it hits a little closer to home as each year goes by.