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Jeff Mangum at the Moore, cell phone photo by me

Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel)

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The Moore Theatre

There's some poetic

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Worshipping at the Church of Neutral Milk Hotel and Jeff Mangum Last Night at the Moore Theatre

mangum.JPG
Jeff Mangum at the Moore, cell phone photo by me

Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel)

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The Moore Theatre

There's some poetic symmetry to the fact that Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum an object of untouchable worship after recording 1998's indie opus In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It was an album about an impossible longing, a weirdly romantic wish to reach backwards in time and save Anne Frank from history and the holocaust, and Mangum disappeared after its release, ceasing to make music and entering into effective hermitude. Now, Mangum's no Anne Frank, obviously, but both made deeply personal works of art and then were gone--and Mangum's pining for Frank soon found an echo his own fans' desire over the years for his return. (Yes, there is also a layer of messianism here--"I love you, Jesus Christ," and all that.) All of which is to say that Mangum's first show in Seattle in at least 14 years came with an air of religious devotion from the audience (about a dozen or so apostles stood at the foot of the stage in front of the packed house for the whole show)--a reverence the singer/songwriter both renewed and gently dispelled over the course of the show.

Mangum took the stage solo with a guitar and said something that was completely drowned out by the crowd's cheers. When he paused to tune later, he encouraged the crowd: "You guys can talk to me." "Where have you been?!" one person shouted. "Are you okay?!" another asked. "Why would you say that," Mangum chided. "Do I not look okay? Just a general bad vibe?" (This elicited a round of general well wishes and "we missed you"s.) Mangum encouraged the audience to sing along (which they did, and which wasn't at all annoying, but truly as uplifting and moving as could be). He mentioned that he'd written "Engine" "just down the street," when he lived here in Seattle. When someone in the audience asked where his Tupac hologram was, he laughed, "Sorry, man, you are at the wrong show. You're obviously very confused." He invited audience members--with humor, even sarcasm maybe!--to come down to the stage and hand him the zines they were shouting about or tune his guitar for him (tellingly, no one actually bridged that gap and made human contact with him). If you came to the Moore last night to worship, Mangum made it clear over and over again that he was just a guy playing some songs, and that we were all just a bunch of folks singing along. And yet, "soft silly music" is still, you know, "meaningful, magical."

He was joined by a cello, an accordian, a drum, and a brass section for the parts that required those instruments, but mostly it was just Mangum seated alone onstage with one of a couple guitars. (He wore a floppy hat, ears sticking out high on the sides through lank hair, a plaid shirt, and pants that rode up above his ankles--everything earth tone.) His voice, always an acquired taste, sounded the same as ever: a sort of idiot-savant bray, perhaps not the most dulcet tone, but capable of holding single notes for extended lengths that inspired repeated rounds of applause throughout last nights shows. He played "Gardenhead" a little more upbeat than on record, and the addition of a cello gave "Naomi" a softer sound than the blown-out guitar of its recorded version, and he stretched those held notes and trademark "dee dee dee"s a bit, but mostly these were faithful, simple renditions of his songs--exactly what we were all here for. We all sang along. And it was pretty goddamn transcendent for a Monday night, Seattle, 2012.

1. "Two Headed Boy, pt. 2"

2. "Holland, 1945"

3. "Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone"

4. "Engine"

5. "Little Birds"

6. "The King of Carrot Flowers, pt. 1"

7. "The King of Carrot Flowers, pt. 2 & 3"

8. "Oh Comely"

9. "Ghost"

10. "Naomi"

11. "April 8th"

12. "Two Headed Boy"

13. "The Fool"

Encore

14. "Song Against Sex"

15. "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"

 
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