Tag Archives: Neutral Milk Hotel

Live Review: Jeff Mangum at Wortham Center

22 Jan

When you hear Jeff Mangum’s name, it’s hard to think of him as anything other than the “reclusive” persona writers have pegged him as. The truth is, I’ve seen Mangum first hand, and he’s nothing of the sort.

Last night, Mangum brought his highly exclusive, extremely anticipated tour to Houston’s Wortham Center in Downtown, and the place was sold out. It might go down as one of the most surreal, genuinely touching concerts I’ve experienced as of yet.

The crowd, which ranged from pre-teen to retired, dressed in their best “going out” clothes. There were no torn jeans, the tights weren’t ripped, and majority of the 21+ crowd was drinking wine or a cocktail versus beer. While it sounds like a strange way to gauge things, the same people sitting around me are the same ones that show up for $2 Lone Star nights and end up swinging their gorilla-sized hands in the air during a free show put on by the same production company, Pegstar. It was pretty nice to see everyone well-behaved at a venue that usually hosts events from orchestras and opera singers. Hell, one of the chandeliers probably costs more than my car.

The show started promptly at 8 p.m. when Tall Firs politely took the stage. The duo sat near one another in the middle of the stage, sharing a Fender Super Reverb and knocking out eight songs from their self-titled debut, 2008’s Too Old To Die Young and 2012’s Out of It and Into It.

In between tracks such as “Hairdo” and “So Messed Up,” band-mates David Mies and Aaron Mullan trade out guitars to get the right sound on each song while partaking in humorous banter. But among stories of stoned kids in OKC and prostitutes in St. Louis, Mies got the last laugh when he and Mullan snubbed Pitchfork’s Aaron Leitko for ripping apart Mies’ version of “I Couldn’t Say it to Your Face” by Arthur Russell.

Tall Firs have the airy, atmospheric chops of Explosions In The Sky, with more of a knack to sound like Sonic Youth or Pavement. Vocally, the two sound like they mastered the whiskey and cigarette routine while extensively studying every album in their personal collection. When stripped down, their songs left the crowd silent and transfixed in the dark of the room.

Following a brief intermission, Mangum took the stage wearing a flannel shirt, jeans and a hat while the house lights stayed on halfway – most likely at his request. But though he looked a bit more gray and grizzly when compared to the photos taken of him playing to Occupy Wall Street protestors a year ago, Mangum still looks relatively youthful.

As he sat in his chair aside four acoustic guitars, he dived straight into “Oh Comely,” sounding just as crisp and sincere as the recorded version we’ve all heard hundreds of times. After a long applause, Mangum prodded the audience to sing along with him to “The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1” and “The King Of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 & 3,” which were played continuously.

Jeff Mangum at Wortham Center last night. Photo by Ed Abello (@sensitive_b)

Though backing instruments such as horns and accordions weren’t part of the set, Mangum’s voice left nothing to be desired. Instead, the crowd acted as an a cappella version of the track, singing back trumpet sections as the hall echoed with the intensity of the experience. And while Houston crowds are notorious for misbehaving, there were only a few that were unable to keep their composure or follow the rules. Some were seen running around the room back and fourth with friends they’d spotted, others forgot to take the flash off of their camera and could be seen by everyone going against his “no photography” rule.

Even so, Mangum took song requests with stride – either accepting them or politely explaining that he was without the proper pedal – and he even laughed at a man who shouted out “Keep Austin Weird!” after divulging that his family was from Texas. He could even be seen talking to people at the front of the house, and often asked the crowd the keep singing along with him or move forward if they felt the desire.

Throughout the hour-long set, Mangum pulled songs off both albums – On Avery Island and In An Aeroplane Over The Sea – and also found time to cover Roky Erikson’s “I Love The Living You.” Often times he stopped to use throat spray and guzzle down a bottle of water that required two hands. But aside from what looked like a minor cold, Mangum was in high spirits, often responding to a rogue “thank you!” or “I love you!”

“No, thank you,” Mangum mused as he placed his hand over his chest before diving into “Song About Sex.” “Thank you from the depths of my soul. I never expected this, I didn’t even think anyone would ever pay attention to me.”

At the end of his set, Mangum smiled and waved with sincerity as the crowd erupted in applause and gave him a standing ovation. And whether planned or not, Mangum came out one last time to finish the night with “Two Headed Boy Pt. 2.” That, of course, got another standing ovation.

And just like that, Jeff Mangum disappeared behind the curtains and the dream came to and end.

Set List
Oh Comely
King Of Carrot Flowers, Parts 1-3
Holland, 1945
Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
Engine
Two Headed Boy, Part 1
I Love The Living You (Roky Erickson cover)
Song Against Sex
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Naomi
Ghost
Two Headed Boy, Part 2

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Pitchfork’s “People List” – By Hipsters, For Hipsters?

26 Aug

When Pitchfork released its “People’s Choice” list last week, assholes seemed to tighten up a bit. But it wasn’t the readers that the list seemed to piss off, so much as music writers that don’t work for the website. But when you consider the source, are the results really a surprise?

Pitchfork kicked this list off as a way to celebrate its 15-year anniversary, but with a list that spans from 1996-2011,  “People’s Choice” is already set up for failure.

Sure, lists make the music blogosphere keep spinning. And yes, it’s a nice package of 15 years. But when push comes to shove, music of the 90s will always be completely different from the music of the more tech-savvy decade that followed.

Then there’s the fact that the list might have been a year in the making, but it still feels flawed.

If I were the editor, I would have dedicated a 16-weeks to voting, tackling each year one by one. Instead, the voters (88% of which were male, by the way) weren’t really allowed to form their own opinions. They were, however, asked to vote on their favorites from the 116,009 albums found in Pitchfork’s archives.

The list is heavily in favor of “classic” albums from the 2000s. In fact, the two years with the most albums on this list? 2007 and 2010.

If you look closely, there are about the same amount of 16-20 year olds voting as there are 26-30 year olds. If you put that into perspective, nearly one-fourth of the voters were younger than four years old in 1996. Some of them weren’t even born yet (we see you, 15 & under.)

I myself am 23. I am the same age as Pitchfork’s largest audience and I was seven years old in 1996.

I get that this is the “People’s Choice,” but there’s something ominous about looking at a list of 200 albums where some were lucky enough to have their entire discography on the list. So why do some artists seem like a shoe-in? Do they deserve the credit, or were voters really afraid that they’ll somehow be seen anonymously voting from their personal computers for non-hip bands?

I can’t dispute that Radiohead deserves the #1 spot. Out of the 25 cities, only two – Houston and Minneapolis – picked something other than OK Computer as the best album of the past 15 years. But what happened to the rest of the list?

Craig Hlavaty of Houston Press made some legitimate points in an article he penned after results went live, one of the biggest being that neither Houston nor Austin voted Texas-based bands among their Top 20. Maybe voters misunderstood the assignment? Or maybe Houston Press’ sister publication, L.A. Weekly, was right to call these voters out on their shit by making their own list of the 20 Worst Hipster Bands.

Their pick? Bon Iver.

Pitchfork’s list of finalists is compiled of 132 artists. Of those artists, 31% got more than one album on the list, while 13% had their full discography included.

But though most of the picks on the list feel predictable, others don’t belong in a “Best of…” list, no matter who compiled it. And for Pete’s sake, what’s the deal with the Top 20?

Sure, it’s easy to see why Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel rank so high – they’ve made albums that not only stand the test of time, but that felt original and inspired the masses. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion, on the other hand, might have been a great album, but did it really influence more bands than The White Stripe’s Elephant? The simple answer? Hell no.

But not all was lost. Some hidden gems give hope that at least a few hundred of the voters knew what the hell they were doing. Well, sort of.

Of the albums listed, the most surprising placements were Weezer’s Pinkerton (#118), which fell four spots after Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds and only three spots before Eminem’s Marshall Mathers EP. It’s also a shock that Interpol’s Antics scored lower in the rankings than Turn On The Bright Lights. Bright Eyes only landed on the list once.

Pitchfork might be known as “Home of the Hipsters,” but they taught us an important lesson – there’s an art to critiquing. Like FOX News, Pitchfork seems to have an audience that doesn’t understand how to form their own opinion. Instead, they regurgitate biased opinions of their faithful (but misguided) leaders.

If you’ve yet to look at the list for yourself, it’s fun and interactive, but you’ll probably just get pissed off. Brace yourself.

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