Monday night brought the once reclusive Jeff Mangum, songwriter and mastermind behind the band Neutral Milk Hotel, to Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall for a solo acoustic performance of some of his former band's classic songs.
Mangum started the set with "Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2" and the raucous "Holland, 1945" and proceeded to play the majority of the band's classic 1998 album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The show also included "Little Birds," featured on a 7" with the recently released deluxe edition of the Aeroplane.
The the crowd was polite and attentive throughout the night, and Mangum encouraged them to be a little more rowdy and sing along like they would if they were listening to the album at home. The crowd belted out the lyrics "I love you Jesus Christ" during "The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 & 3."
Towards the end of the set, Mangum was joined on a few songs by additional musicians, including those from the opening act, on clarinet, various horns, a tom, guitar and accordion. They all came out to close the main set with "Fool," but not before Mangum closed things out with "Oh Comely" and "Two-Headed Boy."
After a quick break, Mangum returned for a quick encore of the catchy "Song Against Sex" and the title track from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.
Throughout the evening, Mangum's nasal voice soared and was unwavering. He's lived with these songs for many years and he seems to know them inside and out. It will be interesting to see if his current return to the stage leads to new music or whether he'll continue stick with his small, celebrated catalog. Either way, he should keep playing.
A trio of Athens musicians, Andrew Rieger and Laura Carter of Elf Power and Scott Spillane of The Gerbils (and a member of Neutral Milk Hotel), opened to show with a rough and tumble set of songs from each singer's respective groups. Highlights included the covers of Chris Knox's "I Will Cry" and Randy Newman's "In Germany Before the War."
They chose to end the set with a rather bleak cover of "It Was a Very Good Year," made famous by Frank Sinatra. It was an odd choice and after the set, once audience member was overheard saying they dug the band's set until that final tune.
Jeff Mangum setlist
Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1
King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 & 3
Song Against Sex
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea