Charity often brings the best out of people. It also has the ability to introduce individuals to the unknown and make them engage in activities that would otherwise be uncomfortable. Take Jeff Mangum for example. Last night, the reclusive Neutral Milk Hotel frontman chose to deliver his first public performance in nine years (not counting the guest spot back in ’08) because of charity.
Appearing at a New York’s Le Poisson Rouge for a concert benefiting New Zealand punk pioneer Chris Knox (if you don’t remember, he suffered a stroke last June), Mangum played a five song set of Neutral Milk Hotel staples. Included, as you’ll see in some of the cell phone camera quality videos below (hey, it’s better than nothing!), were “Oh Comely” and “A Baby for Pree”. Also played were “Two Headed Boy Pt. 2” and “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” as well as “Engine”, which reportedly served as the sing-a-long approved encore.
According to Tom Williams of Radio Exile, Mangum appeared relatively comfortable throughout the performance. It also appears that his musicianship has not lost a beat:
Jeff came out from stage left with two guitar bags in his hand. The roar, deafening, ran through the audience. He seemed in good spirits and not particularly nervous; he certainly did not come off as somebody who has not performed publicly in 9 years (and not in this hemisphere for over 11). He sat down in rather quick order and launched into Oh Comley. His eyes were closed most of the time as he sang and he rocked back and forth, almost like some spastic. He instantly qualifies as the most passionate performer Ive ever seen. The music is sparse, the melodies are simple yet haunting, the lyrics are constant and full of dense imagery. His words just leap from his rocking body. Jeffs voice is still nasally but slightly lower and almost sounds as if hes singing with some slight foreign English accent. However, the voice is still instantly recognizable.
Of course, with all this being said, it is important to note that Mangum still has no intentions of returning to music anytime soon, according to the concert’s publicist. The Chris Knox benefit was simply a one-off, designed to help raise funds for the treatment of the Australian New Zealand musical pioneer. Still, as Thurday’s performance exemplifies, there’s always room for dreams. In the meantime, we have a bunch of new YouTube clips to take in while we’re waiting.
“A Baby for Pree”
A Baby for Pree
Two Headed Boy Pt. 2
In the Aeroplane over the Sea