Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., May 4, 2012
Jeff MangumACL Live at the Moody Theater, April 29
No one knows why Jeff Mangum left stage and studio behind after Neutral Milk Hotel's 1998 opus In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Or, for that matter, why he's back. The inscrutable indie songwriter launched a reluctant return in late 2010, booking a couple dozen tour dates that excluded photographers, cell phone usage, and new recordings. Sitting alone onstage with five acoustic guitars, Mangum recounted the trembling brilliance of NMH's lone remnants, opening with a feverous "Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2" before On Avery Island's "Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone." Following this, he proved himself local in spirit if not blood by combining the clumsy romanticism of Daniel Johnston with the eerie intensity of Roky Erickson (an obvious precedent for the black-sheep horror of Okkervil River). "The first time I saw Daniel play was on TV," revealed Mangum – referring to Johnston's appearance on MTV's The Cutting Edge in the Eighties – before adding that his own family's from Texas. "He totally changed my life." With that he launched into Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End," capturing the unguarded beauty of the original. Perhaps most telling was Neutral Milk Hotel's "The King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 2 & 3," which led to the sold-out throng shouting along with unironic joy, "Jesus Christ I love you."