Concert Review: Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel)

Jeff Mangum returned to Denver for the first time in fourteen years. The legendary singer of Neutral Milk Hotel has been touring this year as a solo act, performing songs from their two studio albums. Denver holds a special place in Mangum’s heart, as it was the location where both of these records were recorded. His performance at the Ogden did not disappoint and reminded fans of what they have been missing for fourteen years.

Before the show, many fans wondered how Mangum would pull off a solo performance of songs with full instrumental backings. Both of Neutral Milk Hotel’s albums contain songs with unique and often bursting instrumentation. It seemed unlikely that Mangum would be able to incorporate this effect into his solo show. Instead of trying to use electronic backing, Mangum relied on the band that opened for him every now and then. However, he did not require them to replicate the sounds and instrumentation of past albums, but rather allowed his songs to adapt to their specialties. The openers, Elephant 6 Collective brought some unexpected surprises to these songs, including the electric saxophone. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it seemed a little gimmicky, but ultimately Mangum’s own emotional expression and booming voice was enough to compensate fully for the lack of bursting instruments.

In fact, at times the sparse set up allowed Mangum’s lyrics and guitar playing to take center stage. The record contains some pretty intense lyrics that have captivated listeners since the 1990s. The effect of hearing them live while simultaneously watching Mangum’s facial expressions is indescribable. His face when he sings is contorted with the raw emotion behind his lyrics. Lyrics that went unnoticed on the record suddenly became the focus of the song.

Mangum played a thirteen-song set that included an equal mix of songs from both Neutral Milk Hotel records. Highlights of the night included fan favorites “Holland, 1945,” “Two Headed Boy,” and “Oh, Comely.” For a guy that has eluded the music industry for song long, his interaction with the crowd was surprisingly genuine. He has a natural stage presence that makes him seem more relatable, but his quirkiness still shows in stories about walking around bookstores with his eye shut “searching for messages.” Mangum ended the show with a one-song encore of the title track from “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” It was a fantastic show that will certainly reinvigorate the demand for a third album from the iconic music star.


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