Photo by Will Deitz (via Pitchfork)
The Brooklyn Arts Center is a grand music venue. Housed in a historic church in downtown Wilmington and retrofitted with draperies along the ceiling to provide superb acoustics, Brooklyn Arts provided an ideal setting for the magical realism of Jeff Mangum. Opening act, Tall Firs offered mellow compositions on dueling electric guitars, but were barely able to rise above the energetic buzz of the dense crowd of 20, 30, and 40-somethings. The crowd, however, were no less than reverent of Mr. Mangum’s music.
Adorned in shoulder-length locks and a mini-ZZ top beard, Jeff launched into ‘Two Headed Boy’ and other selections from 1996’s On Avery Island and 1998’s magnum opus In The Aeroplane Over the Sea. While the performance lacked the ebullient, multi-instrumental zaniness of late 90’s Neutral Milk Hotel performances (living in Athens at the time, I was fortunate enough to catch them), it had depth and resonance and sagacity. Somewhat aloof at first, Jeff quickly warmed to the eager crowd; a friendly heckle of ‘take off your shirt’ was met with a deadpan, smirking ‘…. Why?’ He encouraged the crowd to indulge in sing-along, and they went even further to provide vocal accompaniment in stead of trumpet and trombone. The audience was enraptured and in tune – not a single premature cheer could be detected during either of the two false endings of ‘Oh Comely’. Jeff did much to dispel his reputation as a recluse, almost blushing when a fan yelled ‘YOU CHANGED EVERYTHING’ during a moment of silence, and sharing his elation, incredulity, and appreciation for the fans when he reminisced about early performances for friends in his native Ruston, LA.
After a one-song encore, he was gone again – leaving the star struck crowd to wander into the unseasonably warm winter night, buzzing with an amalgam of nostalgia, magic, and Pabst Blue Ribbon – all wondering if it will be another 10+ years before we felt this sort of high again.
Listen: Jeff Mangum, Two Headed Boy at the Union Chapel, London 2012
Watch: Jeff Mangum performing in Oakland in 2012