[These pics are from Jeff Mangum’s Paramount Theater performance last October. Due to the strict no-photo policy, images are difficult to come by]. Last night’s Jeff Mangum show will be the last for the foreseeable future in our area, and it brought most of the 1000+ at Irvine Auditorium on the campus of UPenn to tears. This was our sixth show, including the five-song mini set in NYC two years ago, and it proved to be one of the most memorable. It was our second time with balcony seats, as the only show in Philadelphia sold out in 34 seconds back in November. Luckily, the acoustics of the auditorium were comparable to the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park. We skipped out on Neutral Milk Hotel alum Julian Koster’s The Music Tapes after a tedious opening set in Brooklyn several days earlier. Koster told the same long-winded, mythical stories he told during the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour. A 30-minute set would have been just right, but the band played on for an hour (equal stage time as Mangum).
Mangum entered stage right with his normal humble but slightly paranoid demeanor, but you could tell he was getting used to and was enjoying performing again after a large string of dates over past few months. He started right into “Two-Headed Boy Pt. Two” to a completely silent audience. It was so quiet you’d have to question, just for a second, if they were into it. The raging applause, yelps, “thank yous,” “we love yous,” etc. quickly put to rest that thought immediately. One of the highlights of the night was the accompaniment of Julian Koster’s singing saw during fan-favorite “Engine,” just as he did earlier in the week in Brooklyn (during a show I missed). Koster hit every note perfectly, and the song never sounded better. An additional highlight was another performance of the ultra-rare “Little Birds,” Mangum’s take on religious baptism, in which he sings in a raised voice, “knowing God in heaven could have … never could forgive him | So I took a hammer and I nearly beat his brains in.” Like most of his songs, the imagery taken from Mangum’s lyrics is both disturbing and beautiful. In the end, the highlight of each and every show was my personal favorite, “Oh Comely.” You can check it out the performance below [via NewJawnVideos] (poor video, decent audio):
One of the best surprises of the night featured The Music Tapes walking in from the rear of the auditorium at the end of “Two-Headed Boy.” On Neutral Milk Hotel’s opus In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, “Two-Headed Boy” is followed by the trumpet-heavy instrumental track “The Fool.” The Music Tapes made it about 2/3 through the main aisle in the orchestra section and stopped, playing the trumpet part of “The Fool” in the middle of the crowd. Mangum has previously told everyone to leave their seats, and approach the stage. The aisles were full, and the entire audience was standing by this point. The trumpet wasn’t mic’d but supplemented Mangum’s strumming guitar masterfully. Jeff and company exited the stage when the song ended. Mangum returned for a two-song encore after thunderous applause from the eager crowd. He went right into “Song Against Sex,” from NMH’s first album On Avery Island. He then finished the set with an epic performance of “In The Aeroplance Over The Sea.” I’ve heard the song live several times before, but it was always missing Koster’s singing saw, which adds a beautiful eeriness to the dreadfully hopeful track. Koster entered once again with saw in hand, and the NMH bandmates played a masterful live version of the song.
Jeff had previously announced these were the last shows for now, if not forever. And he kind of confirmed that last night when a fan shouted “see you soon” from the audience. Jeff responded “maybe” with obvious hesitance and doubt in his voice. One can only hope for anything more, including new music. In the meantime, we will revel in memory of these amazing shows that we never dreamed would happen.
Here is last night’s setlist:
Although Jeff didn’t play the song, listen to Fishpork’s favorite track of 2011, the previously unreleased “Ferris Wheel on Fire” below:
Neutral Milk Hotel – “Ferris Wheel on Fire”