Jeff Mangum at the Ogden Theatre, 4/26/12 (review) - Reverb

Jeff Mangum at the Ogden Theatre, 4/26/12 (review)

Jeff Mangum played the Ogden Theatre on Thursday. Photo courtesy of ogdentheatre.net.

Jeff Mangum played the Ogden Theatre on Thursday. Photo courtesy of ogdentheatre.net.

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.”

Set list:

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
9. Ghost
10. Naomi
11. April 8th
12. Two-Headed Boy
13. Fool

Encore

1. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

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Colin St. John is a Denver-based writer and merrymaker. Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog.

  • Ditka

    That show was magic. SOSOSO awesome. I am glad I didn’t miss it.

  • kendall

    Well done, Colin.

  • Greg Reck4

    Concise review for a magical night. Great job Colin :)

  • girl

    After the show I waited and actually got to meet him. It was very dream fulfilling. truthfully. Jeff Mangum is such an amazing person, he is very nice, he even drew me pictures and shook my hand.

  • Timo

    Absolutely amazing. From the way he started all acoustic(like Aeroplane does), with Scott and Laura carefully marching in and tag teaming so many horns, a pile of snares, an electric saxophone, an accordion, and so much more, to his overall hospitality and love, it was more than I could ever hope it to be.

    And, the thought that I would get to see him perform never had the opportunity to reside in my brain.

    Thank you so much, Jeff.