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Boomslang 2012: Jeff Mangum at Kentucky Theatre

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The mysticism surrounding Jeff Mangum’s reclusion was admittedly a small part of what drew me to his show on Thursday night. The artist is known best as the lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel and co-founder of the Elephant 6 Collective, but his legacy as the creator of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, hailed as either the work of a genius or an utter crackpot” is sometimes overshadowed by his J.D. Salinger-esque departure from the spotlight.

When Mangum walked out on stage in his military cadet hat, long unkempt hair, and graying beard, I felt as if every single person in the audience held their breath.

He sat down on his stool, acoustic guitar in hand, looking small against a backdrop of instruments and seven-foot tall metronome belonging to The Music Tapes. Though I was a huge fan of Neutral Milk Hotel, I had my doubts. In the years after the release of Aeroplane in 1998, Mangum has only played a handful of shows but has mostly retreated from the public eye. I wondered how he would sound, how he would perform onstage with only a few public performances under his belt.

My fears were dispelled the moment he launched into “Oh Comely.” As a solo act, he relied only on his voice and guitar, vocalizing the horn parts and even encouraging the audience to hum along. His voice was as strong as ever, and even gave me chills.

It appeared that Mangum genuinely enjoyed himself, quietly encouraging the audience to sing along with a mumbled “Come on,” as he gestured with his hand. He even cracked a few smiles, and about halfway through his set, he asked the audience to come down from their seats for a better view. The crowd gladly obliged, gathering around the stage to watch as The Music Tapes’ Julian Koster joined him for “Engine.”

There was a powerful moment during Mangum’s set when he cautioned the audience that the last time he tried to play “Two-Headed Boy,” he had an emotional breakdown midway through the song. The whole audience watched as he sang, staring with unblinking intensity at a fixed point at the back of the hall. At that moment, it felt like all 700 people in the audience were silently encouraging him through the song.  When he finished, there was a burst of applause and almost a collective sigh of relief – one person actually yelled out “He did it!” with sincere joy.

After Mangum ended his set with a beautiful rendition of “Ghost,” complete with a singalong from the crowd, he stood up to shake hands and even sign a few albums as he walked off stage. He returned soon after to play “Ferris Wheel On Fire,” and finished the encore with “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” with Julian Koster on saw.

It’s not often that a concert comes along that profoundly moves you. Jeff Mangum’s set at Kentucky Theatre on Thursday was one of those shows.  I can attribute In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel’s magnum opus, as an album that reshaped how I felt about music, so for me and many others that night, Mangum’s set was deeply personal. It was an honor to be in a beautiful space watching what felt like an intimate set with hundreds of adoring fans.

Jeff Mangum’s Set List
Thursday, September 20, 2012

  1. Oh Comely

  2. The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One

  3. The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. Two & Three

  4. Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone

  5. Song Against Sex

  6. Two Headed Boy Pt. 2

  7. Holland, 1945

  8. Engine (with Julian Koster)

  9. Two-Headed Boy

  10. A Baby for Pree

  11. Naomi

  12. Ghost


  1. Ferris Wheel on Fire

  2. “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” (with Julian Koster)

Posted by Caitlin Behle   @   24 September 2012 1 comments
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