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Preview: Neutral Milk Hotel 

Noah Bonaparte Pais on the band reuniting at the Civic Theater Feb. 20 and 21

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Photo by Will Westbrook

Just typing the words in this header elicits a special thrill. For more than a formative decade, Neutral Milk Hotel was the white whale, Jimmy Hoffa and Holy Grail to a certain sect of music fans. Ruston, La.-born singer/songwriter Jefferson Nigh Mangum cofounded the Elephant 6 Recording Company, issued one dry-run EP (Everything Is) and two towering LPs — the criminally overlooked debut On Avery Island (1996) and fabled follow-up In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998), an album so great it's impossible to overrate. Then Mangum promptly disappeared. As the story goes, Mangum lost his mind in the making of the record, his empathy for unnamed but not-so-subtle subject Anne Frank corroding a soul that had grown as brittle as his allergic voice. (You can practically hear the moment his desperation bottoms out on eight-minute, single-take guilt wringer "Oh Comely": "And I know they buried her body with others/ Her sister and mother and 500 families/ And will she remember me 50 years later?/ I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine.") Who knows how much of it is true, and who cares, really? For reasons only known to a few, Neutral Milk Hotel ceased to be for 15 years, existing only in the recesses of a few deeply painful and equally beautiful recordings. And almost as suddenly and mysteriously — foreshadowed by a rose-petaled 2012 Jeff Mangum solo tour and lavish box set, strongly recommended to any lover of vinyl and album art — it is back. Fellow Elephant 6-er Elf Power opens. Tickets $36 in advance, $39 day of show. — NOAH BONAPARTE PAIS

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