Jeff Mangum @ Crescent Ballroom|3/28/13
Okay, so it's announced that Jeff Mangum is coming to town and he has two shows the same night. That means I have to choose. Which one? Which one! Will he play the same songs twice? If so, the second half is bound to suck, right, because he's gonna be tired and bored, right? But what if he doesn't? What if he's way more drunk the second time around and he plays all Neutral Milk Hotel songs and everyone sings along because we're all way more drunk, too?
These are things you can't help thinking, especially since it's Mangum's first show in Phoenix since the dawn of time. Which one? Which one? Doesn't matter now. I've waited seven minutes and now the first show is sold out. But later, I learn my awesome friend bought two tickets to the second half and he invited me. It turns out, it didn't really matter which showing we went to. My neurotic head just needs to relax, as I'm often told.
We met another friend at Crescent and he gave us the rundown from the earlier show. Someone shouted, "Thanks for saving my life." And Mangum responded, "Thanks for saving mine."
Mangum refuses pictures or recording in his shows, so much that he'll stop playing if he sees you fiddling with your iPhone. I was warned by security multiple times, so my camera hung limp and flaccid on my neck the entire show.
Good! I hate people who take photos at shows. I even loathe taking photographs myself, because that's a moment when I'm thinking about aperture or shutter speed instead of getting lost in the music. So, instead, I drew what I saw. I don't care if it sucks, it was in the dark and I had better things to do, like listen to the music.
What I saw was wondrous. I understand now why some see a Jeff Mangum concert as a rite of passage. I mean, it really isn't and let's not take ourselves too seriously, but you don't exactly come away the same.
It seems everyone who has ever listened to In the Aeroplane over the Sea has a special, unique relationship with that album, so I'll spare you my own. Just insert your own personal feelings here and that'll explain why everyone in this crowd was so fucking happy, present company included. As much as I complain in concert reviews about the lack of dancing and energy, a Jeff Mangum show is a good place to stand still and soak it all in. It was just the man and his acoustic guitar and that's all we needed. Our cacophonous vocals in the audience took over the presence of horns, accordion and drums.
As Mangum cut into "Oh, Comely," I noted how much he resembled Fidel Castro. Sporting a patrol cap and a graying beard, Mangum could've been a homeless person or a wizard. His headgear obscured his eyes and his beard obscured his face, making it hard to understand his expressions or emotions. In a word, it was like he was a ghost.
There was more applause for this show than probably any I've seen at Crescent. Practically everyone sang along -- it's like church, we were told -- and even if it all sounded like cats screwing behind dumpsters, it was a beautiful moment to be a part of.
For one friend, it was a bizarre night because he kept running into folks he had known since forever but hadn't encountered in years, yet no one knew each other. "It's a confluence of people in time," he said, or something like that. They were all here for the same purpose: responding to that energy that Neutral Milk Hotel had made us feel.
That's why singing along to "In the Aeroplane over the Sea" poses so much significance. It was actually kind of a surprise -- neither me or the friend who purchased my ticket assumed any Neutral Milk Hotel would be played at all. "Holland, 1945," probably my favorite song by Mangum, was a personal treat. I remember scream-singing along to that song in my car back when I first heard it. Now, I was doing it with the creator.
So, in the end, it didn't matter what show I was able to catch. Mangum played with the same energy both times and both crowds seemed completely radiant. I swear, I saw a few grown men crying. It was bizarre. It was magical. It was beautiful. In fact, it made me have a small amount of ego death and realize how "strange it is to be anything at all . . ."
See the set list and notes on the next page. Critic's Notebook: Last Night: Jeff Mangum at Crescent Ballroom The Crowd: The most adorable hipsters ever. Overheard: "Why am I dressed like a cowboy in fucking Phoenix? I am a poser . . ." Best T-Shirt: Harold and the Purple Crayon. I want to ask this guy why his childhood was so bad. Personal Bias: I'm not the only one overly concerned about which setlist you get to catch. Someone yelled at Jeff Mangum, "Say the later show is the best! Say the early show is for pussies!" Mea Culpa: Not having photos is against the Blogger Code, so I hope you can use your imagination. On the one hand, I'm happy about Mangum's rule. On the other, I feel like I have less of a story.
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First Setlist: (according to a spy) Holland, 1945 Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2 Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone A Baby for Pree Two-Headed Boy Oh, Comely Song Against Sex Engine (but not sure) King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1 - 3 Naomi Ghost Encore: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Second Setlist: Oh, Comely Holland, 1945 Oh, Sister Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1 - 3 Two-Headed Boy Little Birds In the Aeroplane Over the Sea Ghost Song Against Sex Ferris Wheel on Fire Encore: Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2