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Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum doesn’t get out much. He doesn’t do interviews, the band’s original website looks like it hasn’t been touched in years and he hadn’t been in Denver, the birthplace of Neutral Milk Hotel’s two albums, in 14 years. The odds of seeing him perform live had been, until very recently, as good as seeing some mythical creature, which is kind of what Mangum is in the indie music world. Since the release of “On Avery Island” and “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” in the late-’90s, Mangum basically went off the grid, and though the late-2000s brought a few shows, 2012 marks his first tour since the release of his second album.
Given the musician’s secretive nature, it was no surprise that the tickets were “will-call only,” that no photography was allowed and that last night the Ogden Theater was packed. Whether it ends up being fantastic or awful, the thing is, Mangum fans absolutely love his music and for the most part, never thought they’d hear it live, which makes nights like last’s something special.
The set-up was simple and intimate. Mangum sat front center stage with minimal lighting and a rack of acoustic guitars. While Neutral Milk Hotel’s albums have a wide variety of instrumentation, Mangum provided a slightly unplugged version of his music, with just his signature whiny voice and mad guitar strums. There was sparsely placed instrumental accompaniment provided by the opening act Scott Spillane, Laura Carter and Andrew Rieger like a dark cello on “Naomi” and hauntingly beautiful trumpet and french horn on “Two Headed-Boy.”
While the crowd probably would have been happy as long as Mangum stayed on stage and played, he ended up being quite friendly for such a famous recluse. He answered audience members’ questions and talked about his past life in Denver and even signed a record for a fan in the front row. He was sweet and thankful, saying he wasn’t sure how this tour would go considering the time lapse but was happy to find his records had “been out touching people” and that he had “found his people” in the audiences he encountered.
At one point during the show, a crowd member turned to his friend and said, “This is exactly what you’d want it to be,” and it truly was. Mangum played the songs he knew the crowd wanted to hear and didn’t hesitate to play favorites off of the widely-acclaimed album “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” early in the set. While all the songs brought smiles to the faces of the crowd, tracks like “Holland 1945” and “King of Carrot Flowers pt.1” (which he led right into the more complicated and impressive pt. 2) were cheered the most. The show was just a little over an hour, and the encore consisted of just one song, the one everyone had come to hear: “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.”
Whether you are a Mangum fan or not, his Ogden Theater show was a rare moment not to be missed. While the show could have been longer considering the over-a-decade-long wait, hearing a sold-out crowd belt out “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea,” a song many thought would forever be confined to their car stereos, was a beautiful moment.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Isa Jones at Alexandra.email@example.com.