Despite being postponed twice because of the February blizzard, Jeff Mangum’s show at Union Station all but sold out (the initial date did, and Tuesday night was only 20 tickets short of a full sell out). It’s a testament to his fans and the influence this 90’s indie rock icon continues to have on music fans.
Was it the most spectacular show of all time? Well that depends on how big of a fan you are. But was it good for a “I was there when…”? You betcha. And it sure was solid.
The story of Jeff Mangum has grown into folklore. If you’re reading this you probably know the story: Neutral Milk Hotel’s sophomore release, 1998’s In Aeroplane Over The Sea became a touchstone for almost every indie kid out there; meanwhile the pressure of fame was too much for Mangum, who vanished for the next decade.
Fast forward to Tuesday night’s show at the Great Hall at Union Station. It was, in fact, Jeff Mangum’s third area show in a year, behind New Haven and Northampton in January of last year. Despite his seemingly newfound appreciation for touring, the prospect that Mangum may never play in the area again seemed to hold in the air. The audience stood rapt and singing along to nearly every song, coming to a climax with the opening lines of King of Carrot Flowers Pts 2&3.
Mangum’s stage demeanor was calm and cool, joking with audience members who couldn’t help but inaudibly shout their favorite songs.
“My Dog Cheery?”
“My flower puzzle? That’s actually something I’m building in my spare time.”
So much for the legend of being reclusive awkwardness. There’s still one of that aversion from the limelight- it should be noted there are no photos alongside this review. Though photos were explicitly prohibited, a few people managed to sneak photographs, and at least one was reprimanded by security when he lifted his cell phone in a photographically threatening manner.
There were some concerns, and rightly so, about the choice of venue. Union Station is a difficult room with high ceilings, concrete floors, and a heavy tendency toward echo when it is anything less than full. Tall Firs seemed to suffer from this, with David Mies’ beautifully sparse and delicate guitar work filled in by conversations at the back of the room. By the time Music Tapes went on with a fuller room and fuller sound the problem was all but fixed, at least from this writer’s vantage point. Mangum’s intense strumming and soaring vocals didn’t leave any room for an issue.
It was difficult at times to separate these acoustic versions from memories of their full instrumentation, particularly with the likes of “Holland, 1945″ and “King Of Carrot Flowers Pt 2&3.” At Mangum’s gentle and unnecessary request, the audience eagerly filled in for the horns on “Ghost.”
Julian Koster of The Music Tapes, and a former Neutral Milk Hotel member, returned to stage to play the singing saw alongside Mangum for encore performances of “Engine” and “In Aeroplane Over The Sea.”
Jeff Mangum’s Setlist:
Two-Headed Boy (Parts 1 and 2)
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
Song Against Sex
King Of Carrot Flowers (Pt 1, Pts 2&3)
A Baby for Pree
In the Aeroplane Over The Sea