When you think of a house show, you typically think a grungy basement with beer cans strewn everywhere. This show was quite different. This concert was put on by Common Chord Concerts, a self-proclaimed “network of music-lovers in Charlotte and surrounding communities that share an interest in original acoustic, Americana and folk/rock music.” Common Chord has only been in existence for a couple months, but has put on some incredible shows so far with a strong line-up of shows in the coming months.
After walking into the Common Chords founder’s wonderful home, I knew this show would be anything but ordinary even by Bombadil’s standards. The atmosphere was very light-hearted as show-goers brought snacks to share and mingled with the band members and other fans. The turn-out for the show was quite impressive for this being Common Chords’ third event. As 8 o’clock approached, everyone made their way into the living room area where the band had set up their equipment. Some moved to the kitchen and others to the balcony to get a better view as everyone geared up for the concert that was about to take place in the living room.
Everyone cheered as the band members made the transition from socializing to taking the makeshift stage space in their usual eccentric clothes. James announced that it had been a while since they had played a house show and they were really looking forward to the intimate opportunity. This show was to be my first time seeing them as a three-piece since their guitarist Bryan was off finishing his graduate studies and unable to join. They are each incredibly talented songwriters and musicians, so I was interested to see how their show would hold up with the absence of a band member. I was not disappointed. The performances were incredible and the atmosphere made for some great story-telling about the origins of the songs. The narratives made for one of the most intimate shows I had been to as Daniel shared his hardships of trying to continue writing songs while he was suffering from nerve damage several years back. The stories covered everything from sweet tea to cross country unicycle rides as the entire audience listened and laughed along.
There seemed to be no real set list as they continuously called out songs to each other as well as asking the audience for requests. They played a good mix of songs that spanned their entire career. From “Jellybean Wine” and “Johnny” to new songs such as “Have Me” and “Boring Country Song” from their upcoming album Metrics of Affection due out July 23rd. Everyone in attendance was singing along and enjoying the incredible performance. To make the night even more personal, they relocated to the kitchen to perform an a cappella version of “Get to Getting On.” At one point, Daniel made Stuart perform his new solo piano song “What Does It Mean” as he joined the crowd in the rows of folding chairs and couches. Although they seemed to have played every song in their repertoire, the show ended all too quickly with an extraordinary performance of “Honeymoon.” They barely finished bowing before someone in the kitchen started chanting encore. As a form of payback, Stuart then joined the ranks of chairs as he made Daniel give a stirring rendition of “Marriage” as everyone sang along. After the applause faded, they took their places at their instruments one last time for the song “We Were Meant to Be.” After thanking the audience and the hosts, the house once again transitioned from venue to house party as everyone milled around and socialized after the mutual experience. Although it was not quite your typical concert, the unique atmosphere made for one amazing night with the always impressive Bombadil.
This was my first opportunity to see Jeff Mangum and I jumped at the chance to see him by purchasing my ticket months before the show. Although this will not be his final tour, he does not plan to return to the same cities he has already played during this solo acoustic tour. This might explain his decision to play the quaint little Brooklyn Arts Center in downtown Wilmington.
The show was opened up by folk rock duo, Tall Firs. After their set, Jeff Mangum took the stage and the crowd was elated. His performance was very stripped-down with just his voice and guitar. Although he kept apologizing for having to ask his sound guy to continuously tweak the levels after every song (he admitted to skipping the sound check earlier that day) nobody really seemed to mind. I think his almost neurotic behavior about the quality of the sound made everyone appreciate him a little bit more. Jeff revisited songs from all of Neutral Milk Hotel’s albums including “On Avery Island,” “Everything Is,” and the most famous “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” His raw voice echoed off the refurbished cathedral ceilings while he carried out the last word to the lyrics “Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all,” sending chills down my spine.
Jeff would switch between a number of different acoustic guitars surrounding him on stage (I counted five) and you were able to hear a new perspective to the songs. With this raw performance, you could listen with a newfound appreciation for the lyrics. Jeff thanked the crowd several times throughout the evening for coming out to see him by explaining that he was still just used to just playing for his friends in a living room. Even though he has been playing these same songs for the past sixteen years, sometimes at huge venues, I get the feeling that this was the atmosphere he prefers. I can’t wait to experience another heart-felt performance from Jeff Mangum.