Tour Tales: Michael J. Epstein

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2012 marks thirteen years since Jeff Mangum suffered a severe nervous breakdown and quietly deactivated the greatest band to ever hail from Ruston, Louisiana. Despite the group’s unexpected disbandment, Neutral Milk Hotel remains one of the most omnipresent outfits in indie rock.  

Case in point: Neutral Uke Hotel.

Neutral Uke Hotel, the east coast musical project comprising of Golden Bloom frontman and ukelele enthusiast Shawn Fogel, bassist and horn player Matthew Girard (The Future Everybody), percussionist Andrew Laubacher, keyboardist and melodica player Josh Cohen (Guster) and the man of a million bands, Michael J. Epstein (The Motion Sick, Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, Do Not Forsake, Me Oh My Darling), turns Neutral Milk Hotel tunes from way-back-when into catchy ukelele-driven tributes that might even make Jeff Mangum crack a smile and whistle along. After all, Neutral Uke Hotel’s mission statement is simple: to unite obsessed fans of Neutral Milk Hotel for a live performance of their critically acclaimed In the Aeroplane Over the Sea album, played in its entirety on ukulele by Shawn Fogel, with accompaniment from the members of Golden Bloom and The Motion Sick.

Before heading out on a West Coast tour this February with his Neutral Uke Hotel bandmates, The Motion Sick’s Michael J. Epstein recalls the weirdest “fan” encounter he has ever experienced while on the road:

The Motion Sick had just played a show in Madison, Wisconsin and afterward, we drove a mile or so over to our friend’s place to call it a night.  It was around 4am as we were getting out of the van. From the distance, we saw a stumbling, giggling 40-year old woman approaching us with a big bundle of flowers in her hand.  The flowers still had dirt and roots attached, so it was pretty clear that she had just pulled them out of someone’s garden.  The woman focused on me and stumbled forward with her arms out.  I wasn’t really interested in being anywhere near her, but I figured this was some poor, lonely drunk woman who was wandering by herself in the middle of the night, so I could at least suck it up and give her a hug.  I sighed and kind of put my arms down, figuring she would hug me and it would be over with soon enough.  As soon as she was close enough to touch me, she clutched the perennials tighter, lifted her arm up, and began repeatedly hitting me in the face with the flowers.  I stood in disbelief for a moment allowing myself to be hit three or four times before I picked up my guitar and took off running down the street, screaming like a little girl.  As my bandmates all pointed and laughed, the woman gave up and just stumbled off into the night, as mysteriously as she had arrived… 

 -Michael J. Epstein 

February 2012 Neutral Uke Hotel Tour Dates

(wsg Golden Bloom and Michael J. Epstein)

February 17, 2012 – Los Angeles, CA – The Echo (with Miracle Parade)

February 18, 2012 – San Francisco, CA – The Hotel Utah (500 4th St.)

February 20, 2012 – Eugene, OR – Sam Bond’s Garage

February 21, 2012 – Seattle, WA – Sunset Tavern

February 22, 2012 – Portland, OR  – Mississippi Studios

Photo Credit: Kelly Davidson