Last night the improbable was witnessed in Seattle, for the second night in a row: the return of Jeff Mangum. After disappearing in the late-90’s his fans were left wanting more and the cult surrounding his Neutral Milk Hotel album, In the Aeroplane over the Sea only grew bigger. Suffice it to say, when he returned to touring last year it was a pretty big deal, but we don’t really need to rehash all that, do we?
So, the show. The most obvious thing as Mangum took the stage was the awe in the room. This wasn’t a rock n roll show, this was a goddamn revival. That wasn’t a bad thing, however. We had been waiting for this, and as he broke into “Holland 1945” all was right with the world. The voice filled the room. That eternal yelp that is Mangum’s voice, filled the room, braying and shrieking, and chased all the bullshit mythology away.
It took Mangum a few songs to settle himself and become comfortable with being onstage, but he pulled himself together and gave the crowd what they came for. Make no mistake, this was full on nostalgia. Rabid Neutral Milk Hotel had been waiting for this for years, some more than a decade, and here the songs were, in the flesh.
It’s very difficult to decide how to feel about Mangum touring. Why now? Is it just the money? You could tell that the man occasionally felt bored, but there were other times when he seemed filled with the joy of whatever song he was playing. Still, to be honest, as good as the show was it seems that he was little more than a monkey being trotted out to perform tricks. There were no new or unreleased songs, no weird covers, only the classics.
The really interesting question is: where does Mangum go from here? Will we finally see the long awaited follow up to In the Aeroplane over the Sea? You know, he can’t win. That album has been so canonized there is no possible way he can come close to its success. That’s unfortunate, because the man probably has a lot to say if he can get out from under the shadow of the Aeroplane, but we should have faith anyways. We will hear new Mangum material eventually.
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