I used to date someone who was more in love with Jeff Mangum than he was with me. He even had a photo of Mangum as his desktop picture at one point. It was weird. I had listened to Neutral Milk Hotel (NMH) in high school, but dating this kid brought it to a whole new level. I had all the LPs, EPs, live shows and everything in between that made me a true NMH fan. So when I found out the Mangum (after not playing shows for over 10 years) would be gracing his presence at Bearsville Theatre on Oct. 27 at a benefit show for the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, I had to go. I just had to.
So I did.
And I stood right at the front of the stage with only one hipster-head in front of me. I was ready. Mangum had become one of my idols — I knew his songs front to back, side to side, in my sleep, the works.
And then he came on stage.
In his typical Mangum hat with his hair looking long, straight and greasy by his ears and his eyes staring off into the distance as the packed theater quivered in their Clarks.
“This is ‘Oh Comely,’” he said as he started playing those opening chords. I grabbed one of my best friends by my side and squealed. I was scared to sing along, even though it was one of my favorite songs. Jeff is notorious for kind of being an asshole – so I didn’t want to be that stereotypical fan in the front singing all his songs (even though everyone else was). Plus, every time I tried to sing a word, I’d start to tear up. I guess you could say this was an emotionally musical month for me (see Andrew Bird article, Issue 6). But during his second song, “Two-Headed Boy,” he asked everyone to sing the horn part. After that permission, I felt free to sing every song as loudly as possible, smiling every moment, looking like a silly, ecstatic fan.
He was just so incredible to watch. He looked like a mix of not wanting to be there, having complete stage fright and sort of, well, happy.
And he played a killer set. Everything I’d want to hear, including “The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 1 and 2,” “A Baby for Pree/Glow Into You,” “Song About Sex,” “Holland 1945” and “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone.”
Oh, I forgot to mention the best part: Julian Koster (who plays the singing saw in NMH and is also in The Music Tapes) came out for the perfect encore of “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” and “Engine.”
I’m glad I saw him. And I’m glad he wasn’t really the jerk I thought he was. So I left the show with a shirt (that his dog laid upon!) and a smile. Andrew Bird, check. Jeff Mangum, check. Joni Mitchell, you’re next (I wish).