Four guitars perpetually out of tune and one chair centre stage. Man walks in with no further ado, picks one up and plunges himself into Two Headed Boy. The crowd immediately leave their boring seats to approach him, as close as possible. That was Jeff Magnum’s introduction to his rare spectacle in Vancouver.
A living legend, cloistered and intact the once front-man from long defunct Neutral Milk Hotel treated his audience to what may very well have been a greatest hits compilation that night. With flawless execution right to his tired voices’ breaks present in the original albums, stopping only after each song to re-tune his grandmother’s acoustic guitar and dropping quiet sassy remarks to the ever-present couple of douches that needn’t be there at all. His persona on stage in between breaks was as interesting as Mangum’s personal confessions he presented to the people. There were timid laughs from his mic, admittance of frailty while being back on stage after so many years away, reference to his personal feelings at the moment and some memories that resurfaced under that one spotlight. Nothing more should be added about the set-list but the amazing choice for the evening: A Baby for Pree, Gardenhead, Ghost, King of the Carrot Flowers, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Naomi, Little birds, Oh Comely, King of the Carrot Flowers part2, Holland 1945.
What needs to be said is of the man himself. The obscurity that he brought to us could only be compared to the intensity of the performance delivered. Ravenous like a street corner apocryphal end-of-the-days preacher, obsessively gesturing each accent and verse with the gaze expected from war veterans and visionaries. Taking possession of the stage like a medium involves his surrounding space in complete concentration to channel the anxious ghosts of a decade the cryptic lyrics take a meaning before invisible when strummed furiously by him. Some prophet born in the wrong time that found himself playing in a 90s band by chance. Mangum somehow makes each song resound like an urgent truth overseen by modern civilization with regret and indifference. Many newer acts these days would greatly benefit from even a small fraction of his fire within.
After Engine as an encore the grey streaked and bearded man stood up, waved once and walked out.
Words by Chris Kummerfeldt.