In the Aeroplane over Sacramento

Sometimes you do things you never expect on vacation. I drove to Sacramento to see two bands I never heard before play the Neutral Milk Hotel Album In The Aeroplane over the Sea live. This album has a cult following. It did not get s lot of attention when it was released in 1997. In the past few years music Geeks have really embraced this album. The internet has really spread the word of In The Aeroplane over the see. Sites like Pitchfork Media, Live Journal, and Audioscribber all attest to the underground following for In The Aeroplane over the Sea.

Part of the mystique of Neutral Milk Hotel and In the Aeroplane over the Sea is how the band disappeared after that. They were part of the Elephant 6 collective. Most of the members when on to work on their own projects. Jeff Mangum, the guiding force behind Neutral Milk Hotel, has gone into a self imposed musical exile. To many it seemed like the popularity of the album was too much for him. As the album gained a following Jeff Mangum went away from the follow.

I never expect to see Neutral Milk Hotel or Jeff Mangum perform any of these songs live. That is why I am willing to drive four hours round trip to see two bands I have never heard of play in a coffee house. At the very least the bands have good taste. To do something like this I can tell they love an album that I love. Since I am on vacation it is worth my time to go see them play.

I was not the only person who felt this way. The coffee house was packed. I am not sure how many people were fans of Neutral Milk Hotel and how were fans of the bands playing. I learned about the show from reading Live Journal. It would have been nice to know now many people found the show like I did.

Most of Side One played by Christian Kiefer. As the band assembled to play Christian Kiefer joked that he was planning to play all blue grass. I think the crowd would have been happy even if he did it that way. It was standing room only and people were excited.

I was impressed that Christian Kiefer and his band did not try to play like they were Neutral Milk Hotel. It would have been easy for them to try to ape the sound of the band. Instead Kiefer played the songs slowly, carefully, and lovingly. The sound was much more folksy then Neutral Milk Hotel. The intense connection between the musicians and the album was unmistakable.

This care was demonstrated when playing Two Headed Boy. Kiefer was playing a dulcimer. He restarted several times. He said that he was not that familiar with the instrument. The crowd was willing to be patient with Kiefer. We rewarded with a great rendition of Two Headed Boy.

It was a slimed down sound. They played most of the songs with a guitar, drums, bass, accordion, and banjo. Even with 6 members they still have a very quite sound. After rocking out on Holland 1945 Kiefer joked about how hard that was because they are not a very loud band.

The second side of the album was done by Estereo. I liked the lead singer's voice. He brought a different sensibility to the vocals. It was clear that In The Aeroplane over the Sea meant something different to the band Estereo than to Christian Kiefer. It was an interesting change.

The problem I had with Estereo is that I had a hard time hearing them in the cafe. I Could not hear the accordion, bass, or violin at all. All of those instruments were mixed extremely low and the drummer was overpowering everyone. I am not sure if it was because of the venue or how the band was mixed. I really liked the Estereo songs without the drummer. When he played, he was all I could hear.

Estereo had a hard time following up Christian Kiefer. Kiefer and his band really blew me away with his versions of Two-Headed Boy and the Holland, 1945. I think he was just a really a tough act to follow. Estereo still did pretty well besides these two issues.

It was worth my time and effort to drive to Sacramento. You have to admire these bands for being willing to try this. It takes guts to play an album that so many people love. It is that kind of risk that helps an artist grow. I think that is what made it special.

It is the kind of thing I would have never had done if I was not off for the week. I really need to get out to see more live music. That is part of the problem with living in San Jose. There does not seem to be as much live music then other places.


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