Last night's Jeff Mangum show at the Majestic was really a very special event. After a pleasant, relaxing, warm bath of a set from The Tall Firs, Mangum shambled unassumingly onto the stage, clad in a hat that shaded his eyes from view and an impressive beard. From the first swish of a chord, heralding the arrival of "Oh Comely", the crowd was pretty much as rapt as I have ever seen an audience, especially given that this was simply one man and his guitar.
See also: -Preview: Jeff Mangum at the Majestic Theater -Jeff Mangum enraptures St. Louis earlier this week: Review -Does Neutral Milk Hotel Suck? A Debate Involving the Merits of "Elephant 6" as a Safe Word
It's to be expected. As we've been trying to get across this week, Neutral Milk Hotel is one of those bands that really divide opinion, but when you're in, you're really in. Theirs are undoubtedly songs and albums that people take to heart. Furthermore, this is Mangum's first tour since his legendary album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was released, fifteen years ago.
Looking like he was genuinely appreciative and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the crowd's support, Mangum's unmistakable voice was pitch-perfect. And given the lack of any of the other instrumentation that featured on the NMH records, it was completely unavoidable in its intensity and power.
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It seemed as if he had the greatest lung capacity of anyone else I've seen. The held notes never lost their pitch, and he didn't seem to need to breathe in to supply them. By the time he rolled out "Holland, 1945" and, memorably, the title track from "The Aeroplane Over The Sea", the crowd were not only singing along to every word (as was strongly encouraged by Mangum between songs) but filling in the missing trumpet parts as well.
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None of the songs suffered from simply being Mangum and a guitar (at one point Mangum said "Someone asked me if it's difficult to play the songs like this. But this is how I wrote them"), and a set-closing "Ghost," on record a fast-paced distorted number, took on a life all of its own, as the crowd shouted every trumpet section straight back at the stage. Leaving to the most enthusiastic standing ovation I've seen in a long while, Mangum returned to play "Two Headed Boy Part 2," also the final album track of Neutral Milk Hotel's short lifespan, and departed to a mumbled, elongated, "Don't hate her, as she gets up to leave." The crowd leaped to their feet once more, and Mangum did indeed get up to leave, tapping his heart with his fist and saluting the audience.
I'm not sure there's any real way to encapsulate the emotion and intensity of the whole thing without sounding a little fanatic, but if the NMH albums mean as much to you as they do to me, this was absolutely perfect. You wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Jeff Mangum at the Majestic Theatre, 1/20/12 Oh Comely The King of Carrot Flowers Pt.1 The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 & 3 Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone Engine Two-Headed Boy Holland, 1945 I Love The Living You (Rocky Erikson cover) Song Against Sex In The Aeroplane Over The Sea Naomi Ghost Encore Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2 (Encore)