To the indie-loving set, Jeff Mangum needs no introduction. As the frontman for ‘90s lo-fi act Neutral Milk Hotel, Mangum helped pave the way for future greats like Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, and Beirut, to name a few. What set Mangum apart was simple: He championed swelling orchestrations and grandiose song structures, and he dealt in lyrics that were both spiritual and grounded in the tragedies of Real Life. He made records that were peppered with strange, adventurous instrumentation, but stripped-down, his songs retained their oomph. He also attracted one hell of a cult following because of it.
On Monday night, fans packed into the Lobero Theatre for an extra-special, extra-intimate glimpse at Mangum’s solo setup. (The last time I caught him, it was at Coachella, in a crowd that maxed out at somewhere around 5,000 people.) Following a hilariously disconnected set by duo Tall Firs, who specialize in heartbreakingly sad little numbers yet maintain the stage presence of two slacker stand-ups, Mangum took the stage with nary a “hello.” Shrouded in facial hair and a low-slung cap, Mangum made quick work of “Holland, 1945” and “Two-Headed Boy Part 2” before thanking the crowd for coming out. With a minimal three-guitar setup, the singer spent the early part of the evening feverishly strumming through a handful of Neutral Milk favorites. He hit an early high with “King of Carrot Flowers Part 1, 2 & 3,” Mangum’s magnum opus from 1998’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Other highlights came by the way of “Engine,” whose slow-paced guitar strums created a nice reprieve to Mangum’s signature fury, and “Oh Comely,” which found most of the crowd belting along proudly.
That the Lobero’s mix seemed a little off (a few feedback issues, too little bass) didn’t seem to bother Mangum’s fans much, as they spent the better part of the night calling out all manner of flatteries. As for Mangum, who seemed genuinely flattered by it all, he finished the night with Aeroplane’s triumphant title track, which seemed to pack the necessary nostalgic punch for all in attendance.
1. “Holland, 1945”
2. “Two-Headed Boy Part 2”
3. “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone”
5. “Song Against Sex”
6. “Two-Headed Boy”
7. “King of Carrot Flowers Part 1, 2 & 3”
9. “A Baby for Pree”
10. “Oh Comely”
13. “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”