1) Oh Comely
2) In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
3) A Baby For Pree
4) Gardenhead
5) Two-Headed Boy Part 2 (acoustic)
6) Two-Headed Boy
7) True Love Will Find You in the End (Daniel Johnston cover)
8) Song Against Sex
9) Naomi
10) Ferris Wheel on Fire
11) King of Carrot Flowers Part 1
12) King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 & 3
13) Holland‚ 1945
14) Encore: Engine
Neutral Milk Hotel's pivotal 1997 album‚ In the Aeroplane Over the Sea‚ always seemed like one of those discs that upon discovery you feel as though you've found some miracle record that nobody else has ever heard before. That immediate intimacy is what keeps the album selling to this day though‚ and what caused this show by the reclusive Jeff Mangum to sell out within 20 minutes of announcement. Much credit must be given to the team of Burlington music promoters (Angioplasty Media and MSR), for not only getting Mangum to start his tour in our small-scene music Mecca‚ but also for having the brilliant foresight to hold the show in the Unitarian Church in the heart of town. I missed Tall Firs‚ but caught the delicate and highly N.M.H. influenced set by Andrew‚ Scott & Laura (of Elf Power and The Gerbils). Anyway‚ let's get to the heart of the program.
Hipsters in pews -- not a common sight‚ but it felt eerily natural as you entered the house of prayer. With no withered cross-bearers adorning the walls of the Unitarians‚ the humble altar upon the stage was lit with purple and orange hues -- turning into a sun-fallen portal to surround Mangum's shadowed face. It was honestly beautiful‚ and the no-camera policy only added to the moment's significance. And despite a history of shying from the public eye both personally and musically‚ Jeff Mangum performed a magical 14-song set Monday night that found him playing with a confidence and comfort of someone who hasn't been missing for a decade.
Opening with the soft darkness of "Oh Comely‚" there came a moment when he held a note for an extra bar -- like he was listening to make sure it really was as quiet in the church as he thought it was. That stillness was juxtaposed by the arena-celebration screams that came at the end of this and every song‚ as each tune's closure became an orgasmic release of the uncontainable joy raging through the crowd. "Aeroplane" came next‚ and as the room let go of first-song anxiety‚ the haunting surroundings and sweltering humidity cradled all into a throbbing bosom of dreamlike familiarity. Things were already welcomingly heavy when the p.a. cut after "Gardenhead"‚ but the un-amplified‚ mid-pew rendition of "Two-Headed Boy Part 2" that followed took the show into the timeless nether-realm. Encouraging everyone to join him‚ Mangum himself fell nearly silent as the flannel-adorned choir sang as if they were reading from the hymnals: "And when we break‚ we'll wait for our miracle/God is a place where some holy spectacle lies/And when we break‚ we'll wait for our miracle/God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life." Beyond this moment of poignancy‚ any lingering trepidations of maintaining hipster serenity were washed away by the childlike pleasure of embracing something you fell in love with half a lifetime ago.
Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You" was a perfect call‚ melding seamlessly with Mangum's own catalogue. And luckily he would not shy from all he has written‚ touching on the forgotten gems off On Avery Island‚ as well as encoring with "Engine‚" the b-side to the "Holland" single. Surely though‚ "Holland‚ 1945" was not to be forgotten and its closing placement served as an emotional capstone -- it seemed like there was a sense of both relief and wonder as several hundred folks were able to check that big one off the bucket list: "See Jeff Mangum perform 'Holland‚ 1945' live." Check. Without the fuzzed out guitar‚ the tune took on another life -- a calmer path of destiny that it could have once fallen into. The turn into the bridge‚ you know… "Here's where your mother sleeps"… well‚ my spine is still echoing of how that felt. Frankly‚ every song seemed to benefit from being stripped down; hearing Mangum sing the horn lines made it seem all the more real. And for an artist who has clearly touched the core of so many while being so weary of exposing his actual self‚ that 'real' feeling was overwhelming‚ and incredible‚ and a touchstone sensation for aging indie-kids who are still trying to piece together their broken hearts from the '90s.