I never thought that I would get the chance to see Jeff Mangum live after his long break from the music world following his masterpiece, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. And then around a year ago, a run of concerts was announced out of seemingly nowhere. And with the announcement came a lot of questions. Why now? Would Jeff play new songs? How would he sound after a 12 year absence?
Jeff's voice sounded the same as it did in the nineties, and his guitar certainly hasn't lost anything. In many ways it felt as though he had never stopped playing at all. His songs are still as mesmerizing as they have ever been. After not having listened to Neutral Milk Hotel for a few years, I was reminded how emotionally powerful the songs were and of the intimacy each song contained. When I listened to them, I always felt as if they had been written solely for me to hear; everything on the records was just so confessional and deeply intimate that I couldn't imagine anyone else listening in. So seeing the songs performed in front of a sold out crowd who shared this love gave the songs a much more communal feeling. Throughout the show it felt as if the entire theater was hanging on his every note and listening intently to his detailed lyrics. At times the crowd sang along (usually after a bit of insistence by Jeff), and at others, such as during Little Birds, the crowd was quiet and reverential.
The set was a mix of songs from On Avery Island and Aeroplane, with a few b-sides thrown in (Little Birds and Ferris Wheel on Fire). Laura Carter and Scott Spillane of Elephant 6 joined him on stage for certain songs to play horns. The show was suitably sparse, with Jeff on stage by himself surrounded by four acoustic guitars, and highlighted by lighting that gently changed the colors to match the mood of the songs. Occasionally star like lights would dot the curtain behind Jeff and give songs like Aeroplane's title track an even more magical feeling.
And overall, magical is the word I would use to describe seeing Jeff Mangum playing Neutral Milk Hotel songs again after a 12 year break. I never thought I would get the chance to hear the songs played live, or dared to suspect that Jeff would sound the same. At times I felt like I was seeing a specter of some sort on stage. I'm not sure why Mangum chose this time to start performing again, but I'm glad he did and I hope it leads to the world getting to experience a little bit more of his music.
The show was recorded from Jen's bag underneath her seat because the venue was extremely strict about the no camera and no recording device policy. It is a pretty decent recording for what it's worth. However there is an annoying amount of movement captured at times. Though we stayed still, the girls sitting next to us and behind us were constantly shuffling around, tapping, going through their bags, and moving their soda cans around on the ground. Nevertheless it is more than listenable and should be an enjoyable experience for any Jeff Mangum/ Neutral Milk Hotel fan!
Download the full recording HERE (password= twosails)
1. Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2
2. The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1
3. The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 &3
4. Gardenhead/ Leave Me Alone
5. Song Against Sex
6. Oh Comely
7. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
8. Little Birds
9. A Baby For Pree/ Glow Into You
11. April 8th
12. Holland, 1945
15. Ferris Wheel On Fire
16. Two-Headed Boy
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea