The show was opened by fellow ATP label mates Tall Firs. The Tall Firs’ acoustic alt-country sound was calming, but was hardly enough to contain the excitement of the sold-out show. Band members Dave Miles and Aaron Mullan traded quips on stage between tracks from their junior album, Out Of It And Into It.
Perhaps in the style of the odd, eclectic manner of Jeff Mangum, the transition music between sets was difficult to pin down. The speakers played soft, whispering tracks that sounded like an odd voyeuristic recording of a conversation with violins in the background. The Saturday night concert at The Beacham continued to build tension and suspense.
Bringing four distinctly different acoustic guitars out with him, a bearded Jeff Mangum arrived alone on stage. Without a word, Mangum treaded into “Oh, Comely”, a track from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. While Mangum has made recordings outside of Neutral Milk Hotel, the set list seemed to revolve around his most famous album Aeroplane, which was released in 1998.
The ability to tour and sell out shows by mostly playing an album that is nearly 15 years old truly speaks to the quality of Mangum’s arrangements and the cult-like following of his fans. This draws a stark contrast to the number of bands that released a trio of albums in 2013. Whether it was meant to cement a comeback, or make their name known, artists like Guided By Voices, Green Day, Ty Segall, Weeknd and the Dirty Projectors kept their audiences scrambling with the band’s tri-annual releases. This is not to discount the work of the 2012 trios, but rather to further point out the oddity of Mangum’s career.
A further contrast to the normal music etiquette of 2012 was the complete prevention of photography at Mangum’s show. Making it clear through the website and several mentions on stage, Mangum’s disdain from fan photography was made apparent. Perhaps one could attribute this to the mysterious and reluctant nature of the headliner, or the vulnerability he may have felt performing Neutral Milk Hotel’s material alone on stage at a sold-out venue. One can also consider the minimized role of social media and consumer photography at shows in the late 90s to early 2000s when Mangum was initially gaining national recognition. In an unexpected way, Mangum gave the crowd something they haven’t experienced in nearly 15 years (besides his live show), a concert devoid of bright cell phone lights and bad recordings. For the first time in many years, the crowd was given an opportunity to just focus on the music and be present.
While Mangum’s involvement in the music industry has been scattered in recent years, his website promised that this will not be his last tour. It has not been announced whether Mangum will be recording again in the near future, but it stands to reason that the recent tour, an anniversary box set as well as appearances at Coachella and Occupy Wall Street could easily form as a springboard marking a possible reunion of Neutral Milk Hotel or new solo material from Mangum himself.
Mangum’s setlist mostly spanned tracks from In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, giving the audience a mere 13 tracks, including an encore of “Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2.”
Check out the setlist below:
Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
The King of Carrot Flowers Part 1
King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3
I Love the Living You (Roky Erickson cover)
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2