Written by Chandler Waugh with help from Mackenzie Waugh.
I am having a little bit of trouble typing this review because there is a cat bundled very closely and very cutely up by my side. But I will persevere! Onwards!
Last month, on the 15th, Kenz (formally known as Mackenzie) and I drove down to Bloomington to see Jeff Mangum play one of the first shows he’s played in ten years. For y’all who don’t know, Jeff is, as Kenz says, “A god among men.” He is mostly known for playing in a wonderful band in the 90’s called “Neutral Milk Hotel,” which is something of a legend among the skinny jean-wearing, Kundera-reading, patently disaffected set. Thus, tickets for said show sold out in a ridiculously short time after they went on sale. It follows that the circumstances of our involvement were not, shall we say, altogether typical. To be honest, we did not even know that we would be going until the day before, when the friend of a friend who knew I was looking for tickets called me to say that he had two tickets available for sale at face value. This piece of news was frickin’ phenomenal because all the tickets we’d seen for sale had been at least $50 more than their printed price. So, we got the tickets sorted, told our parents we would be out for the night, packed up the Bug, and headed out.
An hour and a half (and two ridiculously ridiculous traffic jams) later, we found ourselves standing by the stage, huddled together with the mass of dirty hipsters packing in to see the legend that is Jeff Mangum. To be honest, neither Kenz nor I really wanted to talk to anyone, so we just kind of stood there making dumb small talk, saying snide things about the other people there. There was a mildly terrifying moment where I thought, “This could very well be me in college.” But before I could be paralyzed by the sheer terror that the thought engendered in me, the first opening band came on stage. They were called the “Briars of North America,” and they were phenomenal. For one thing, I really wasn’t expecting anything too great from an opener. Besides, I had heard literally nothing about them before. But the Briars honest-to-god blew my socks off. It was four guys total, one on stand-up bass, one on synths, and two vocalists/guitarists, one of whom doubled as a french horn player. They had such a complete, polished, well-done sound. Which, like I said, was something totally unexpected from a band opening for a guy whose set consists of him on stage with four acoustic guitars. But, I digress. The Briars were very good.
The second opener was Tall Firs, who are these two guys who sat onstage and played wonderful experimental, um, music (genres??) that was very weird but also good. The openers’ sets combined, though, were really long, and by the time Jeff came out, bedecked all pretty in his enormous beard-hat-sweater combo, the thing had been going on for almost two hours. But his mere presence reinvigorated the crowd, who promptly forgot all of their sore-feet-related woes and began to cheer really loudly, clap, and cry. Hm, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet, but when Jeff played certain songs, the couple that was standing beside me (I knew them from Carmel), started to cry. They were honest to god crying, tears pouring down their faces, sobbing. I think it was when he played, hm, could’ve been “Oh Comely,” could’ve been “Two Headed Boy pt.II.” It was a lil’ bit embarrassing. Honestly, how do you react to something like that? But the nice thing about Jeff Mangum and his fans is that everyone gets so into it. No one really batted an eyelash. It was, more than anything, a Jeff-directed sing-a-long, which was perfectly fine, because singing along at concerts can be the best part.
One of the coolest parts of the concert was the interaction between the people on stage and the fans. The two openers kept giving us advice on how to react to Jeff and how we should sing along. The told us things about touring with Jeff, how great of an audience we were, and talked about the last time they were in Bloomington. Someone asked Jeff to come out for ice cream with him/after after the show, and he said something along the lines of: “Thank you, I’d love to, but I don’t eat ice cream.” It was pretty cool. You couldn’t really see much of his face between the cap and the enormous beard, but his voice was exactly the same as it had been in “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” when it was recorded 15 years ago. It was perfect. Jeff’s set was actually relatively short (I think he played about 13 songs total, plus the encore). But when Kenz and I left the theatre, at around 10:30 p.m., we weren’t thinking about the stupid drive back, or the stupidly early classes we’d have to be attending the next morning, oh no. “That was literally the best show I’ve ever been to in my entire life,” said Kenz, and that’s the truth. It was wonderful.