Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel), Friday night at Liberty Hall

Posted By on Sun, Jan 20, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Mangum is much hairier these days.
  • Mangum is much hairier these days.
Jeff Mangum took to Liberty Hall's stage Friday night looking like he'd just emerged from a long stint in the wilderness. He wore a thick, brown wool sweater, and his long beard and hair were hidden under a cap. The outfit suggested a man who does not wish to be recognized. That very well might be the case with Mangum, who is known for retreating from the music business following the release of his two albums as Neutral Milk Hotel. We soon learned that Mangum is traveling alone in a station wagon for this current tour, which also seemed to emphasize a desire to be left alone. Also, he does not like pictures, and he advertised his policy against them before and during the show. (His requests were, naturally, ignored by a handful of attendees.) So you will just have to imagine a mountain man in a brown sweater.

Mangum opened with "Oh Comely," and the evening's set mainly featured music from that song's album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. By leaving the music scene after the release of this album, Mangum has sort of locked himself into this relatively small set of songs, but clearly these were the songs that the packed house wanted to hear. I suppose there's no sense in not saying those were the ones I most wanted to hear, too - Aeroplane was a formative album in my college years, and one that was played ubiquitously at bars and coffee shops throughout Lawrence for years after its release. None of us imagined the man would ever actually come to town, and so his arrival was pretty big news. People started lining up outside the venue around noon. From my perch in the balcony, the floor crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder, crammed into any available spot.

Mangum was clearly sick - he sprayed medicine into his mouth after each song - but his voice sounded rich and full, and the equipment was tuned to vaguely resemble the warm, tube-radio-like sound of his albums. His sparse setup included just four guitars and a microphone, with Mangum sitting throughout the set. He played "King of Carrot Flowers Pts 1-3" stripped down, with different tempos and moods, and without the horns or percussive flairs on the album version.

"Our goals [for this tour] are fairly small," Mangum explained about halfway through the show. "I'm kind of amazed how many people have come out." He never quite appeared comfortable onstage, but for being such an inward man, Mangum commanded the hundreds-deep crowd with an absorbing presence, typically not an easy job for just one guy and a few guitars. The show did briefly move from captivating to affirming when Mangum closed the set with "Ghost." The balcony began clapping, then stomping and singing loudly with Mangum. He broke a string, tossed the guitar aside, picked up an alternate, and kept the song moving. He also knows how to make things a little easier on himself, as he demonstrated on "Holland, 1945."

"Do you wanna sing with me?" he asked the crowd.

Yes. Yes, they do.

Set List:
Oh Comely
King of Carrot Flowers Pt 1
King of Carrot Flowers Pts 2 & 3
Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
Engine
Two-Headed Boy
Holland, 1945
I Love the Living You (Roky Erickson cover)
Song Against Sex
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Naomi
Ghost

Encore:
Two-Headed Boy Pt 2

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