By Matt Bushlow
Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum made a triumphant solo return to the stage last night at Burlington, Vermont’s First Unitarian Church, kicking off a string of rare tour dates that will conclude in London this December. Writer Matt Bushlow, one of the lucky fans in attendance, wrote a recap for 24B of the MSR and Angioplasty Media-sponsored event. Check it out along with the setlist below…
The resurrection of Jeff Mangum has begun. Sure, that’s a bit dramatic, but consider this: Last night he played the first gig of his only tour in more than a decade in a church in Burlington, Vermont.
A few minutes after openers Andrew, Scott and Laura (from Elf Power) left the stage, nearly 500 giddy fans erupted in applause as they witnessed a vision from their indie-rock dreams: Mangum, clad in flannel and a black cap, waving to them as he walked up a few steps to the stage/altar and taking a seat among a few acoustic guitars and a music stand.
Seated in the dark and flanked by a 20-foot-tall arch filled with red light, Mangum started his set with “Oh Comely,” from Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The raw emotional power of his voice was undiminished by his years spent away from the spotlight. From there, he alternated between songs from Aeroplane and NMH’s debut album, On Avery Island, with “Ferris Wheel on Fire” and a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” thrown in for good measure. (He encored with the children’s song “Engine.”)
While the crowd was enthralled by every classic song and yearning high note, there was one moment that set itself apart: While a problem with the PA was being fixed, Mangum decided to grab his chair and seat himself on the floor at the front of the church, sans amplification. Everyone quieted down and he led the crowd through a sing-along of “Two-Headed Boy, Part 2.” He’s certainly not the first to do it, but the emotion of the moment – an indie-rock icon returning to performing and the hundreds of fans who were seeing him for the first time – brought the house down. Once Mangum finished, he regained the stage and said, “Well, I played the second part, I might as well play the first.” In short, everyone went batshit crazy.
From the first moment to the last, Mangum appeared comfortable onstage, bantering easily with the crowd, reacting to song requests, praising Vermont’s culture, and encouraging everyone to sing along. It was a bit of a surprise from a guy who’s quasi-famous for being a recluse. Let’s all hope that this bodes well for the rest of his tour, Neutral Milk Hotel’s gig at this year’s ATP, and fans who want to finally see Mangum sing all those songs.
“In The Aeroplane Over the Sea”
“A Baby for Pree”
“Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone”
“Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2”
“True Love Will Find You In The End” (Daniel Johnston cover)
“Song Against Sex”
“Ferris Wheel On Fire”
“The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1”
“The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2 & 3”