The Living Enigma
I was hoping to post a rare Neutral Milk Hotel or Jeff Mangum live show with this post, but due to time constraints this will be forthcoming. Tonight marks the first time that Jeff Mangum, the reclusive songwriter and front-man for Neutral Milk Hotel, has graced Portland with his presence in over a decade. According to the Crystal Ballroom website, both shows have finally sold out. Don't count on there being any scalpers hanging out in front of the venue either as Jeff Mangum requested a stringent ticket policy where tickets are only being issued to showgoers on the evening of the show, and no advance tickets are available for those who have tickets to attend both nights. I plan on getting there a little bit before the doors open to secure a choice spot by the far left side of the floor by the windows.
Well, not much can prepare you for a show like this. Technically, I guess you could say that I have been preparing for this ever since I first heard In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and played it repeatedly until every lyric, riff, vocal hook and musical nuance was firmly embedded on my cerebral cortex. I feel so excited that I can barely sit still, and have been listening to the NMH catalog in this past week, reminding myself why this music means so much to me.
The story goes back to 2001 when my nephew burned In the Aeroplane Over the Sea for me, but for some reason I didn't actually listen to it for another year. It truly goes without saying that this album is a grower, but once you are hooked there is no turning back. When I finally heard the record, I was transported to a very special place filled with two-headed-boys and psychedelic marching bands. I was absolutely intoxicated by the yearning in Mangum's voice mixed with the ramshackle instrumentation of the rest of the band. Of course, by the time I was finally aware of Neutral Milk Hotel's music, I had already missed the boat. They had disbanded due to Jeff's reluctance to be popular along with his alleged fear of following up In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.
Since I had no way to experience Neutral Milk Hotel live, I decided to search for anything I could find related to the band. What I came across was nothing short of amazing: an official Elephant 6 messageboard containing practically every live show that is in existence as well as out-of print cassettes that barely surfaced outside of the towns in which they were recorded such as Hype City Soundtrack, Accordion Peas and Invent Yourself a Shortcake.
It was on Accordion Peas where I first witnessed the amazing track called "Engine" that never appeared on any album by NMH. In the song, a gently strummed guitar and singing saw provide a haunting backdrop to Mangum's emotive vocals and imaginative lyrics. Every time I listen to this song, I am practically reduced to tears as the vocals bend the heart strings one by one. After many years passed by with practically no word on what Mangum was doing, or even if he was still living, I had given up hope.
And then, out of nowhere I heard that he was playing a few select shows around the US in 2010. It wasn't until January of 2012 that the message came into my inbox that Mangum was playing not one, but two shows at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. I could barely contain my excitement as I had been waiting for this day for a really long time. For those of you in Portland who were lucky enough to get tickets ahead of time, I will see you there. As for the rest of you, I'm sure that you will be there in spirit and will have In the Aeroplane Over the Sea blasting on your computer, hi-fi stereo, I-Pod, etc.
I will be posting a rare live performance by NMH soon.