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.