There's isn't much that Jeff Mangum does that Bob Dylan didn't do; or Syd Barrett, or Donovan, or Cat Stevens for that matter. And there isn't a lot that Bright Eyes, Arcade Fire, Beirut and the Decemberists do that he didn't do first. Let's call a spade a spade, Mangum is a folk singer—albeit with contemporary, post-punk reference points. And that's ok. Because in 1998 while everyone was all up in N'Sync and Britney Spears, Neutral Milk Hotel put out In The Aeroplane over The Sea, providing the soundtrack to many mooney-eyed teenagers formative years. And just before "voice of a generation" could be pinned on Mangum, he broke up the band and disappeared. It's best not to ask too many questions when songs change a young persons life, just be thankful that some still do.
The mysterious Mangum has been performing again for a few years now. He took to the stage of Eugene's McDonald Theatre looking the disheveled hobo: overgrown greying beard, long greasy hair sprouting from underneath a black "Che Guevara" cap and denim workshirt like any good folk singer. He sat alone in the middle of the stage, flanked on one side by acoustic guitars, and proceeded to tear through much of Aeroplane solo, hitting all his cult-hits like "Two-Headed Boy" and "Holland, 1945." His voice, providing many of the Eastern European-flourishes that horns and accordions take care of on the record, is a bit of an awkward instrument—live, it's apparent he has the physiogymy, the lungs and diaphragm of a singer, but when the sound reaches his sinuses and skull it emerges a strange bleat, a forceful if not always perfectly in-tune horn blast. But like Dylan, nobody sings Mangum quite like Mangum.
And the packed house on Sunday, April 7th was enraptured. Mangum has a strict no photo policy at his shows—whether it be professional or cell phone. It was nice to watch a show with a sea of people who were really watching and listening, instead of meta-watching via iPhone screen. Now and then Mangum dropped out, letting the audience take over, and the crowd's voice rose as one in congregational fashion—they knew every word, and Mangum cracked a smile at the "this song changed my life" energy coming back at him. "It blows my mind how many people come to hear me sing my songs," Mangum said at the end of the night, "I'm very grateful."
Tagged: live review