Jeff Mangum at the Ogden Theatre, 4/26/12 (review)By Colin St. John | April 27th, 2012 | 5 comments
This was special. As Jeff Mangum related at the Ogden Theatre Thursday night, he had moved to Denver three times and lived here for a total of about two years. The Neutral Milk Hotel frontman worked on the landmark group’s only two full-lengths in the Mile High City. Mangum related anecdotes about sleeping in a boiler room and walking down the stretch of Colfax just outside the front door “every day.” Even though each tour date the reclusive and — until recently — non-touring musician is catnip for a ravenous bunch, this show was rarefied and something of a homecoming.
Mangum took the stage in his trademark flannel, a long crop of dark hair sneaking out from beneath a firmly-placed cap. Seated, he played almost entirely Neutral Milk Hotel songs acoustically and solo, as was expected from reports of his shows since his surprising re-emergence. His vocal dexterity, on record and dutifully recreated live, is hard to explain: The crux of Neutral Milk Hotel, his screeches and peaks are like an adolescent child awkwardly yet potently cracking his voice through unforeseen grief.
NMH’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” famously hinges on Anne Frank, yet Mangum made an emotional minefield of comfort to his fans. (It should be noted, however, that some of the uninitiated were spotted last evening, and the mostly acoustic, spare performance was palpably tough to bloom for them.) He’s a cult figure and sometimes, like on “Holland, 1945” and “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1,” the audience — singing word for word — drowned out the man on center stage.
Members of the Elephant 6 Collective who had opened the show — including Scott Spillane, Andrew Rieger and Laura Carter — took to the Ogden platform from time-to-time to boost the tunes. “Oh Comely,” with trumpets and a slideless trombone behind it, took on its intended raw power. (“Naomi” had the benefit of a cello.) The backing crew most notably stormed into the proceedings (with an accordion, marching band bass drum and tamborine, to boot) as “Two-Headed Boy” wound into “Fool” and the set ended.
Because of his spare set-up, Mangum’s lyrics were even more immediate. They are the stuff of odd hallucinations. “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone” was particularly resonant and appropriate. A man who has been indie music’s J.D. Salinger asked for the lights on him to be dimmed and illimunate his salivating company in Denver. “Leave me alone,” he sang. “For you know, this isn’t the first time.”
1. Two Headed-Boy, Pt. 2
2. Holland, 1945
3. Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
4. True Love Will Find You in the End (Daniel Johnston cover)
5. King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1
6. King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2&3
7. Song Against Sex
8. Oh Comely
11. April 8th
12. Two-Headed Boy
1. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea