Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel (330th new thing).

August 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Patrick had been working on a super secret show for years. Literally…two years. If I walked into his office and he was emailing an agent about this high level secret he would cover the screen with his hands or minimize the window. Curiosity aroused, I managed to catch the initials “JM” in the subject line. I started spouting off names of any act I could think of who may have fit the JM description. And some who didn’t. Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Mungo Jerry? I didn’t even stay in the parameters of the living. At one point I suggested Jeff Mangum, but Patrick didn’t flinch. Still, I felt it was the best guess so far. And I was right. So finally on Day Three Hundred Thirty for the first time ever, I saw Jeff Mangum play live.

I arrived late to the Neutral Milk Hotel fan world. I bought In the Aeroplane Over the Sea when I was twenty-three, four years after the band had essentially stopped touring and recording, in the Newcastle HMV. However, it only took one listen for me to move the album to an imaginary top ten list. I found myself almost daily putting in headphones and jumping manically around my tiny grad school dorm room in frigid England, lip syncing to “King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 & 3.” So while not a long-time super fan of Jeff Mangum and his music, I only had positive associations.

It was raining as I hurriedly parked my car a block away from Variety Playhouse and rushed in before the headliner began. I met Patrick in the lobby, waved hello to a few friends and acquaintances, and ordered a beer. Despite the fact that the show was sold-out and the standing areas along either wall of the theatre were beyond packed, we managed to find a couple of empty seats toward the back of the room, with a clear view of the stage. And shortly after a tall scruffy looking man called Jeff walked on stage to begin the acoustic rendition of “Two Headed Boy Part 2.”

The crowd roared into anticipatory applause. Nineties Athens indie rock was brought back to life in Little Five Points for a night. Chills ran down my arms, and stayed there throughout the show. At one point I looked up at Patrick and saw him begin to well up under memories and nostalgia. Seeing Jeff Mangum was a huge burst of youthful remembrance for him. He grew up with this music, in college for the heyday of Neutral Milk Hotel.

As the more popular songs were played with minimal instrumentation, the audience sang along. I wanted a big musical crescendo as “King of Carrot Flowers” (all parts) was played, but the additional musical support on stage was spaced out. Andrew and Laura from Elf Power, Scott Spillane from Gerbils and Neutral Milk Hotel, and another musician all took turns joining Mangum on stage.

It really was a fantastic live music experience. Even without the electric guitar and drums and even the theremin. the show rocked. And now I have another happy memory to associate with what is still an album on my imaginary “Top Ten” list.

Even as a thirty year old I will still listen to “King of Carrot Flowers” with headphones and thrash madly around the room.

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