When you hear that someone like Jeff Mangum is coming out of his self-imposed exile to play a slew of shows, you don't really know what to expect. This is the man who gave up music, specifically after releasing two amazing albums that created a rabid base of adoring fans. He is also the man who refused to do interviews for years at a time and completely withdrew from public life, only resurfacing to play a few random shows and release an album of Bulgarian folk music. But regardless of his personal life, his music remains as a strong testament to his talents, and the chance to see his songs performed live, in an intimate, acoustic performance, is one that should not be passed up.
The Loews Theater in Jersey City is a theater of ornate design. The red velvety drapes and gold carvings outlining the stage call back to the golden ages of cinema, back when going to see a movie was a more theatrical experience. It seems odd that Mangum would choose to play in such an elaborately constructed place, considering a lone chair and four acoustic guitars are all that occupied the stage. "Isn't this place beautiful?" he asked at one point during his set. "This is definitely the most beautiful place I have ever played."
After opener and former Neutral Milk Hotel member Scott Spillane left the stage it was time for the long anticipated headliner. Mangum slowly walked to the spotlight drenched chair. After the crowd's rapturous applause died down, Mangum sat and asked for the stage lights to be turned down and the house lights up. "I want to see everyone's face," he told the crowd and then immediately launched into the eight minute epic "Oh Comely." From the first moment his guitar pick hit the strings, the crowd was his. He gave his renditions of On Avery Island and In The Aeroplane Over The Sea staples like "Song Against Sex," "Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone," "Holland 1945," and of course the haunting "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea," with Mangum filling in the absent instrumentation with his signature, nasally "dee-de-dees." He even took the time to take requests, even when it was obvious he didn't want to play some of the songs the crowd yelled at him. When shouts for "Little Birds Part 2" came, Mangum looked a little puzzled. "You guys really want to hear another sad one? I could play something else." But Mangum obliged the request, saying that this was only the third time he had played this song live in the past twelve years. "It took me a while to come to terms with this one," he said of the lyrics' violent message of abuse.
In between songs, it felt as though the crowd didn't know how to act towards Mangum, like they were stumbling across an animal in the wild. It was something special to see, but no one wanted to make any sudden movements lest they scare it off. Mangum, however, put those notions to rest. After a stirring, intensely fast rendition of "King Of Carrot Flowers Parts 2 and 3," he told the crowd "You guys don't have to be so nice. You can yell at me if you want," to which the audience responded. "Tune that guitar!," "Will you marry me?," and "We love you," were all hurtled toward the stage and Mangum took the time to answer every one individually. ("I've been trying to for twelve years." "Sorry, I'm already married." and "I love you, too, friend.")
After an hour, Mangum stood and said goodnight. He disappeared back stage to a standing ovation, one that did not cease until he reappeared for an encore. After two more songs, ("Engine" and "Two Headed Boy") Mangum disappeared again, and for good that time, to another round of thunderous applause from the crowd. As the crowd filed out of the theater into the cold New Jersey night, many were left in awe of what they just saw, feeling lucky for having seen it, and saddened by the fact that they may never see it again.
Check out a fan shot video of Mangum playing all three parts of "King Of Carrot Flowers":