I remember when I first bought In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I was working at Cheapo Records, and most nights we each picked a CD to play over the PA system. My manager was really into pop music, and introduced me to great albums like The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks and Forever Changes by Love. This was around the time that The Elephant 6 collective began releasing albums. I think I found The Apples in Stereo first, quickly followed by The Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel.
There was something different about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It wasn't psychedelic like many of the E6 groups, and it also wasn't bubble gum pop like a lot of the bands either. Neutral Milk Hotel were really something unique, but it was Jeff Mangum's songwriting allowed them to stand removed from the rest of the pack. He delivered his songs in a raw and frenetic burst of music, and the horns that filled out his songs took it to another level. I remember listening to it over and over. It felt like a perfect album from beginning to end.
I didn't catch them when they were touring behind In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but I figured I would make it the next time they came around. There wasn't a next time. Jeff Mangum pulled a JD Salinger style disappearance. Sightings and rumours elevated him to myth status, and I was afraid he'd never come out of musical hiding again, but he did.
My wife and I were lucky to get tickets with some friends. I didn't know what to expect from the show since the rest of the band wasn't with him. Would it translate acoustically? We walked into the State Theater unsure, but left amazed. I've never seen a show like it. He took the stage by himself, sat surrounded by 4 guitars, and went right into Two Headed Boy part 2. It was dizzyingly magical. I can't explain the happiness and joy that was bouncing all around the room. It was infectious. This tour was a gift to all of his fans, it was like Christmas as a kid.
He didn't seem like the recluse we'd all come to expect. After a few songs he began to banter with the crowd. Someone yelled "Thank you" and he responded, "If you want to thank me sing along." He really seemed to be enjoying himself, and things got even better during Ghost when he was accompanied by clarinet and flugelhorn. They joined him again to end the show with The Fool. I loved the intense and fantastic new song Little Birds, and haven't been able to get it out of my head since. The crowd cheered him back for a one song encore, and Jeff ended the night playing In the Aeroplane Over the Sea joined by the horn player.
After the show he signed posters and records for his fans outside of the theater. Jeff's said in interviews that he's been writing songs ever since the band went on hiatus, I can only hope that he's encouraged to record again.
Here's the nights set list:
Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2
Leave Me Alone
King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1
King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 2 & 3
Ghost (accompanied by clarinet and flugelhorn)
Naomi (accompanied by cello)
Two Headed Boy
The Fool (accompanied by clarinet, flugelhorn, cello, and 2nd guitar)
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (accompanied by flugelhorn)