W/ Tall Firs
Brooklyn Arts Center, St. Andrews
516 N 4th St, Wilmington
Doors open @ 7:30 p.m. – Show starts @ 8:30 p.m.
Advance tickets $28.50, www.etix.com
Jeff Mangum is making a comeback in the music scene, one that is long overdue. The founder of the band Neutral Milk Hotel decided to put on a tour across a handful of states, a surprise to many, as announced in November. Mangum has constructed it so he won’t be hitting cities twice and is keeping some of the major arenas off the list. However, included is Wilmington, NC, which will be enlivened by the ’90s rock icon’s visit tonight at Brooklyn Arts Center downtown.
Mangum tends to keep a low profile, which is quite unusual for many working musicians today—something which says he’s in it more for the art than the lifestyle. Born in Ruston, LA, in high school in the late ’80s, Mangum started Elephant 6, which inspired his current Elephant 6 Recording Company out of Athens, Georgia, and includes the Elephant Six Collective, a group of bands involving The Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Olivia Tremor Control. Then, he and friends shared a passionate love for the alternative indie-rock of Sonic Youth and The Minutemen, as well as the flitting groove of the ’60’s The Zombies and Donovan.
Mangum took to his own catalogue of music in the early ’90s and recorded many songs under the name Milk, with his cassette tape “Pygmie Barn in E Minor” being among the most popular. He released numerous demos before beginning his project Neutral Milk Hotel. Releasing the EP “Everything Is” in ’94, it wasn’t until 1996 he reportedly holed himself up in a closet to write “On Avery Island.” He recorded it with The Apples frontman and childhood friend Robert Schneider at Pet Sounds Recording Studio in Denver, CO. Adding Scott Spillane, Julian Koster and Jeremy Barnes to the mix, Neutral Milk Hotel (NHM) recorded again with Schneider on “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” in ’98, their most popular album to date, often cited by critics as one of the most fundamental ’90s rock albums. It’s been said Mangum’s inspiration for “Aero” came from the holocaust and Anne Frank, as during live performances he would often note dreams he had of Jewish families during WWII (some of those performances are now available under the title “Live at Jittery Joe’s”).
NMH’s fan base grew, but, pressured by the fame, Mangum suffered a breakdown and disbanded the group, choosing to be kept out of the spotlight. In 2001 he released his own compilation of Bulgarian folks music, “Orange Twin Field Works, Vol. 1,” and continued his contributions to radio shows, other bands’ albums and even held a NMH performance. It wasn’t until 2008 he would return to play NMH’s lush and full, as well as strikingly raw and stripped, raconteur music. A mystical, psychedelic-punk sound, rooted in acoustic frames of Americana, Mangum’s vocals and guitar present cracked layers of emotive edge, provocative shrieking strikes of tenor venom and waves of jaunty rhythms persistent in overlapping melodies. Full with horns, accordians and electronic scenic noises, to simple acoustics telling haunting truths, what makes it all the more captivating are the shrill calls Mangum often holds over long notes.
Mathieu Grillo, former Berklee College of Music student, responds to “Aero.” “It’s a misleading record because there is a drastic, unexpected change from the beginning to the end,” Grillo notes. “A progression of easygoing guitar strums turn into wild combinations of instruments that lead to the closing.”
NMH’s vibe has made its mark on the indie scene, even inspiring bands like Franz Ferdinand and Grammy-winning artist Arcade Fire to push beyond the normal genre of indie rock. Mangum, despite his attempt to stay away from the fame, has created, if even by happenstance, an image of irrevocable genius in music. His reverence, though captured on recordings forever as his legacy, is only relegated to a select few who have the opportunity to see him live—mostly close friends and family over the years. Lucky for Wilmington, he will bring this enormous amount of passionate art to the stage, as Progressive Music Group presents Jeff Mangum live tonight, January 30th, at Brooklyn Arts Center. Tickets are available in advance through etix.com and start at $28.50. Please, note, pictures aren’t allowed to be taken during the show.
Mangum has partnered with Children of the Blue Sky and donates one dollar from every box set to the charity and others in need. To learn more and support the cause, visit www.eternalblueskyofmongolia.org. —Shea Carver and Chelsea Pyne