Live Review, 4/9/12: Jeff Mangum Comes Out of His Shell at the Fox

Jeff Mangum

Andrew, Scott, and Laura (of Elf Power and The Gerbils)

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Fox Theater (Oakland)

Better than: Jeff Mangum staying home — again.

Jeff Mangum has a powerful whine and terrific pitch. That's not meant as a backhanded compliment — it's the truth. There is no escaping the nasal quality of his voice (it annoys some; not me), but I never realized its strength before. He powered through his solo acoustic set on Monday night with volume (and dead-perfect tonality) that almost overtook the Fox Theater's P.A. The show was not the ideal pairing of venue and artist, but it represented a rare opportunity to see and hear one of this generation's most elusive and sure-footed musicians.

The show was part of Mangum's much-anticipated tour — his first in over a decade. His performance was emotional and energetic, a testament to the persistent talent of this retiring artist of sparse output. A Salinger-esque persona, Mangum has mostly kept out of the public eye since shortly after his former band, Neutral Milk Hotel, released the acclaimed album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, in 1998.

The sheer force of Mangum's talent as both songwriter and performer blew through the crowd like hot wind from the moment he came onstage. He tore through songs from his solo recordings as well as Neutral Milk Hotel's two albums. They went fast, too. No slow jams here. Mangum kept the songs at their proper tempos, and didn't spend too much time on audience chit-chat. And he never once made any concessions to stagecraft to add visual dynamics to the show (it was just Jeff and his guitars), because he never needed it.

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