by Chris Rotolo, Senior Staff Writer
Vinyl quality instrumental Turkish-Folk numbers crack and sizzle through a set of speakers fashioned on the wings of the Paramount Theater’s grand stage, resonating through the hall, bouncing off the mammoth rosette design first affixed to the aged ceiling back in 1927. This is how the 1600-patron capacity congregation entered his world. This is how Jeff Mangum prepared us.
Nestled into their automatically reclining seats well before show time, strangers can’t help but voice their bewilderment to surrounding patrons. Sure, we’d read the reviews and heard the cavernous audio covertly recorded in a Toronto-based music hall, much like this one, back in August. But due to secret service-like sentinels who stroll the aisles at these Mangum showcases, retina piercing flash lights in fist, just as the ATP event staff were on patrol this afternoon, no photographic nor videographic evidence had surfaced prior to this weekend.
“How are we gonna know it’s him,” speculated one mustachioed show goer to another. “I heard, the way they light the stage, you can’t even see his face, just a shady silhouette in a sweater.”
“That’s true,” answered Thing 2, “I suppose any body double could sport that pageboy haircut stuffed under an army ranger hat. They could be playing a previously recorded performance through the speakers and he won’t even have to lip sync.”
Continue reading for more on the show and what Jeff Mangum had to say about his future…
These people were questioning the man’s very existence, and rightfully so. Yes, someone claiming to be Jeff Mangum, former front-man and primary songwriter of the cult outfit Neutral Milk Hotel, had checked into the Berkley Hotel this weekend. This alleged imposter was seen drawing pictures for adoring fans on the steps of the arcade a day after captivating spectators on opening night, and was about to play his sixth show in 13 years, but who’s to say this once great musician hadn’t pulled a Dread Pirate Roberts after his final 1998 tour? How far up did this conspiracy go? And if it was him…had that time away from the stage sapped his abilities to croon?
The lights fall and out of the shadows softly steps the gangly Salinger-equivalent who, many years ago, opted to sing his fairytales to the masses over gingerly strummed six-strings, rather than leave his words to stagnate on a page. Mangum relished in those waves of jubilation spit forth by the ocean of humanity that used wash over him. He coveted those baths even more so than his beloved privacy, a guard he was willing to shed, at least, for this weekend, in our musical hub by the sea.
Despite the outpouring of affection tossed in his direction since his absence, one still senses Mangum’s uneasiness as he barricades himself within an invisible tent of sorts, the unseen case of artistry is propped upon four acoustic guitar necks acting as corner posts, pillars which are removed one after another as the songsmith chips away at his 14-track blueprint, scrubbing up in as those old familiar waves of grace that now crash into him.
Mangum was never one for the spotlight, in fact, he ran away from it, which is why it appears he is enjoying this midday performance much more than his Friday evening headlining set. Two days later, his name removed from the Convention Hall’s Marquee, he opens up to this congregation (opposed to his opening night performance where he sidestepped the respectful silence between numbers by saying, frankly, “I have nothing to say.”), pleading with his loyal patrons to take part.
“If you know the words,” begs Mangum, “then please, just fuckin’ sing a long.” His adamant request draws laughter, but very few takers. The onlookers treat this musical marvel like a prized catfish they’re honored just to have swimming near their impaled worm body. No sudden movements or he might swim away for another decade and change.
As the performance continues tensions ware thin and it suddenly dawns on several witnesses that they need to air their thoughts, for they might not get another chance.
“Everyone loves you Jeff,” shouts one onlooker.
“I believe you’re mistaken my friend,” replies Mangum with a chuckle in a southern twang, slightly modified since his move to New York City.
“Don’t ever leave us again Jeff,” exclaims another.
“Do we all need to go to my therapist tomorrow and work this out?”
Finally, Mangum broke us…his craving for a sing along could no longer be fought as he sliced into the circular riff of “King Of Carrot Flowers (Part 1)” and continued straight into the second and third installments.
And then, he bestowed upon us a message of hope for what the future might hold.
“I’m glad you guys stayed with me on that one,” said Mangum. “I know Scott [Spillane] isn’t here to play the trumpet…but he will be playing it eventually.”
After another live-band karaoke session on a massive scale during “Holland, 1945” and an encore that included “Engine” and “Two Headed Boy (Part 1),” Mangum arose from his golden hue encrusted throne, and strolled off, back into the side-stage shadows, waving to nobody in particular, for it was now impossible to focus on singular faces in the crowd. The audience had evolved, we were one single celled organism of exhilaration, tears, and cheers.
And suddenly, with the flick of a switch, our time with Jeff had ceased, cued by the untimely return of the house lights. But you can’t say Mangum didn’t warn us. Like he sings in the song, “I will take you and leave you alone.” We can only hope it won’t be too long before he returns.
Jeff Mangum Setlist:
- Two Headed Boy (Part 2)
- Aeroplane Over The Sea
- Song Against Sex
- Baby For Pree
- Oh, Comely
- True Love Will Find You In The End (Daniel Johnston Cover)
- Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
- King Of Carrot Flowers (Part 1)
- King Of Carrot Flowers (Part 2 & 3)
- Holland 1945
- Two Headed Boy (Part 1)