Former Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum set up shop at the Cleveland Masonic Auditorium (a beautiful venue) last night, delivering on promises set forth in classic albums recorded more than a decade ago. It was surreal; Mangum was clad in a scraggly beard and baseball cap and hundreds of Neutral Milk Hotel obsessives got their chance to rub elbows with indie glory.
As Mangum sat alone on stage, strumming his grandfather's acoustic guitars and humming his most beloved songs, it seemed that we were all congregating at the very source of his craft. It became easy to picture Mangum along in his bedroom, years ago, writing "Song Against Sex" and the rest of the Neutral Milk Hotel catalog. These stripped-down takes on indie classics were filtered through time and the unfortunately overwhelming hype heaped onto albums like In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.
He opened with "Two-Headed Boy" and quickly launched in to the cherished King of Carrot Flowers suite. He tossed around small talk here and there, humoring a crowd that seemed more hellbent on just being in the room with Mangum - a demigod in the eyes of many - than actually listening to his music in this truly rare setting. Excitable squeals of joy rang throughout the cavernous auditorium between songs and people ranted their requests for the man on the stage.
"This is Ah-MAY-Zing!" yelled one guy, setting off fireworks of applause in his corner of the room.
So on one hand, Mangum's fans turned out for a unique evening of gorgeous music. On another hand, people showed up in droves to attach themselves in any way possible to the cult of Aeroplane. "'Cause we were there, you know? Mangum, man; we saw Mangum play..."
Here's the setlist and, at the bottom of the page, a slick reminder of the Neutral Milk Hotel sound:
The King of Carrot Flowers Part 1
King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3
Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
Song Against Sex
Two Headed Boy Pt. 2
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea