This was a night to remember, forever. A year and a half after I saw Neutral Milk Hotel play the Beehive, they came back to Pittsburgh, only this time they were my favourite band. Ever. I mean, they aren't my favourite band ever now, but I think it's safe to say that my passion for this music at this time was greater than I've ever felt about a recording artist - of course, refracted and magnified through that volatile teenage lens. In the intervening year and a half since the 1996 Pittsburgh show, I had not only become their biggest fan, but I had started an unofficial website for the whole Elephant 6 thing, which thanks to my timing in the nascent Internet fanscape, brought me into contact and correspondance with them. I saw them play in Cleveland in April '97 and emailed with them, Eric from the Olivias, and others. Some of them I considered to be "friends" and although I was just a plucky 17-year old with wide eyes, I think they genuinely liked me too and appreciated my enthusiasm.
Here, they come to Pittsburgh again, just moments before their second album blew wide open and the star exploded. I, of course, knew the record intimately because C and I met in the autumn semester, and he had an advance tape of it from his brother, complete with breaks and skips in places due to a bad dubbing deck. Once again they were the opening act for another Merge band, this time Superchunk, who I also loved but found my interest in waning.
The show was at Graffiti, a mid-sized venue in Pittsburgh that was frequently booked by Joker productions, a concert promoter whose name I think was John Rinaldo. This was a step up from the 'Manny' shows that I usually went to and brought with it the irritations of club security, bigger stages, etc. Of course I saw Guided by Voices twice here and Pavement a few other memorable shows, so I actually sort of miss Graffiti. Most Joker flyers had a distinct look but this one was somewhat grassroots, and on orange paper and landscape mode - a real departure for Joker!
C and I were on the guest list and had fun catching up with Jeff, Julian, Scott and Jeremy, spending most of our time backstage. My friend asked Jeff to play 'Two-Headed Boy Part 2' which he didn't usually play live, and he opened the set with it, which was somewhat confounding to the rest of the audience who was generally just waiting for Superchunk to play. But again, they were an amazing supernova of a band, and they slayed that night. I recorded it on a dictaphone and I think I still have the tape somewhere.
I actually barely watched the Superchunk set - I think I spent most of the time hanging out with Julian and Jeff backstage, which was downstairs. I remember hearing 'Slack Motherfucker' and going up to watch it with the rest of NMH, but I wasn't too bothered missing Superchunk, although I never saw them again and the record they were touring for here (I think), Here's Where the Strings Come In, remains my favourite work of theirs.
My parents (who I still lived with) were out of town and explicitly forbid me to let Neutral Milk Hotel crash there, but I disobeyed and brought them back to Brookline anyway. My grandmother was there and was completely cool with a rock band sleeping on the living room floor; I remember her making Julian scrambled eggs in the morning, and he asked after her the last few times I saw him. (She died in 2007).
I felt on top of the world, completely in awe of how people can create such amazing and expressive music together. I never saw NMH again - you all know what happened once the rest of the world finally heard Aeroplane. I kept up some sort of relationship with a few of them in various levels, long after I stopped doing the website. Though at this point it's been years since I've talked with any of them. C and I are still friends and collaborators to this day and when we are together (which is rare) we often reminisce about this and other Elephant 6 experiences.