Show Review: Jeff Mangum at Sacred Heart Cultural Center – 1/28

Jeff MangumOn Monday, January 28, 2013, Jeff Mangum played at a church.

The setting was fitting seeing as hipsters across the globe view him as a kind of indie God. Who knows how many of us have played In an Aeroplane Over the Sea repetitively on drunken nights with our friends, proclaiming with utter certainty that these were the people we’d spend the rest of our lives with while singing of ugly pasts and semen and God knows what else?

The Neutral Milk Hotel frontman had been hibernating for much too long–so long that most were certain he’d never peak up out of the dirt that is the music world ever again. He did here and there, like the prairie dog he is, playing to sold-out crowds in the nooks and crannies of New York City. But nothing could prepare us for a full U.S. tour. The mystery man was finally showing his kind face, now stricken with middle-aged creases and a colossal, speckled beard.

jeff-mangum-posterThanks to the people at Sky City, his performance at the Sacred Heart Cultural Center in Augusta was nothing less than what we expected and everything more than we could ever imagine. It was as if history itself, embodied by one being, was perched on a chair in between Jesus Christ’s thoughtful gaze and the star-struck gawk of fans.

Okay, but first the openers. Truth be told, the openers can be spoken of with dismissiveness. Who’d a’thunk that Mangum would steal the show?

Tall Firs took the stage first. Initially, the crowd was intrigued, as a hush grew more present upon the band’s entrance. The two, Dave Mies and Aaron Mullan, sat down side-by-side with their electric guitars resting on their knees and began to play the kind of music one would expect from two guys in two flannels with two electric guitars (not each) on their knees, and while the concept of long, ambient strides of distorted guitars and growly vocals seemed nice in a church setting, it wasn’t.

 The 14 stages of the cross must have been soaking up all the good vibes because Tall Firs’ set sounded like one big, lazy, fuzzy song. Too little of sounds were trying to fill up too big of a space, and in the battle between the bored hum of crowd conversation and ambient noises, the hum won. It was unfortunate, because their stage presence appeared humble, and I bet that if I could have actually heard what they were saying in their in-between song banter instead of just a microphone buzzing, they would have made me laugh and enjoy myself despite it all.

After an unsuccessful trip to the food truck Crumbs (everyone kept stealing our quesadillas, making what should have been a 10-minute endeavor a 30-minute one), and witnessing Mangum carrying a puppy and maybe, perhaps, what looked like trying to put said puppy into a knapsack (What? I saw what I saw), we walked in for the latter part of Robert Schneider of Apples In Stereo fame. His nerdy-like vocals and quick, choppy acoustics appealed to the crowd more than the prior band’s set, but the people were still clearly itching for the main act.

In either the blink of an eye or an eternity—it’s hard to say—Mangum emerged and plopped down on a chair in the very center front of the stage. From afar, he looked like a brown, plaid, hairy, faceless blob, but once he delved into “Oh Comley,” that direct and gaudy voice of his materialized crystal clearly into the performer we’d waited our whole lives–give or take–to see and hear simultaneously.

The performance turned into one big sing along, the audience trying its darndest to reach those piercing pitches and understand those strange words that Mangum is so celebrated for. Given that most of us were born in the early ‘90s during Mangum’s hay day, the wisdom exuberayting from him was palpable, but not staggering.

Without doing too much (although it would have been acceptable for him to do pretty much anything), Mangum managed to take hold of hundreds of people and he might have never let go for some. Through his discography, Mangum showed us the timelessness of music. To think that he wrote and recorded these songs over a decade ago, and yet there they all were, as if the decaying nature of time didn’t even phase them at all.