Thursday night in Lexington saw the conclusion of the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise tour and it was the stuff of legends…
Rumors have circulated for years about the reemergence of Jeff Mangum, the man behind one of the greatest albums of our time, and arguably all time. Note, it is not even a point of contention with regard to our time. Since the release of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Aeroplane over the Sea, Mangum has scarcely been seen.
Last night we were fortunate to witness two films, one of which was “Major Organ and the Adding Machine“, the video counterpart to the regrouping of several of the Elephant 6ers, although its unclear exactly who the group consists of. The bleed over between The Music Tapes, The Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel is difficult enough to keep up with such that the members of Major Organ may not themselves know who is in the band. The silent film depicted a game of hide and seek that turned into a mind-controlled excursion. I was forced to watch it backwards and around the smiling TV, so my view wasn’t as clear as I’d have liked, and as a result couldn’t see the credits well enough. Supposedly Mangum is playing the lobster in the movie, and Kevin Barnes gets attacked by a Gorilla, both of which are simply fantastic.
Julian Koster (Music Tapes), Scott Spillane (NMH), Robert Schneider (Apples), Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel), Bill Doss (OTC), Will Cullen Hart (OTC), John Fernandes (OTC) and several others were in attendance at the Red Mile in Lexington. Having never realized the space was capable of holding concerts, I quickly realized that it was to be the city’s most beautiful venue, and unquestionably the best space in which I have yet to see a concert. A circular barn with two rows of decks above and enough space for the hundreds in attendance to crowd around the center where the members intermittently gathered below the low-hanging chandelier to blow our minds. Multi-instrumentalism ruled the evening, with every member playing 3 or more instruments, and almost everyone taking a turn at the drumkit, which at one point in the final moments of the show had four drummers stationed, battling 3v1. While the dual drum kit of a band like Tortoise is fascinating to watch, the revolving lineup of dual drummers was like watching Fight Club, the drumming edition.
“Side 2”, as Koster called it, began with another film, a quick and confusing slideshow before introducing the recluse who hadn’t come out in some time. As the tension built, we were introduced to a face in the snow/static on the television which had been blocking my view of the videos. They were playing with our emotions. Throughout the set Mangum’s presence could be felt. He stayed towards the back of the crowd, but amongst us nevertheless and surely felt the eyes of so many in attendance hoping to catch a glimpse or a performance. Donning a red plaid wool coat and a lumberjack’s cap, he was easy to spot. The room was filled with constant and nervous energy, and while the show could stand on its own as one of the best shows of the year, the addition of the reclusive genius elevated the performance from incredible to epic.
As Koster proclaimed, “this is really our last song” the anticipation neared epic disappointment as Mangum was still holding up near the staircase looking as though he wanted to come play, but not enough to actually do it. Finally, the performer in him got the better of him, and he came to the stage and said “follow me”. Hundreds of people poured out of the Red Mile barn chanting Circulatory System’s “We will live forever and you know it’s true, know it’s true” led by Koster, Spillane and Mangum. Finally, the three sat down and as Spillane lowered our singing to a whisper, the threesome launched into “The Fool” for what appears to be the first time since the AOTS tour (although Koster & Spillane did play it in previous shows sans Mangum). Mangum finished with “Engine,” a b-side that has been his song of choice during the tour. The final song, however, was sung by everyone, as it was Jeff’s birthday and Robert let the crowd know it. The happy birthday chant ensued.
Afterwards, I came upon a conversation Jeff was having with another fan who thanked Jeff and then said “but I’m sure you hear that all the time.” I wasn’t surprised to hear Jeff’s response. “Not really, you know I don’t really ever do this. Usually I hear the plumber ask ‘Where’s the Sink?’ so thank you”. During an awkward silence, I took the opportunity to speak with Mangum and I asked about the tour he’d just done, and his response? “Well, I hadn’t thought I was going to be playing. I was just coming along with all these guys.” We couldn’t be happier that you did. In follow up, I asked Jeff whether this experience had warmed him up to gettin back out there and give the whole scene another shot. His response was that “I have to absorb it all right now”, but gave no further indication whether that means what I think (or at least hope) it does. We can only hope I guess, but that he’s performing one song gives us hope. We don’t need Aeroplane over the Sea, Jeff…we just need you.
Jeff Mangum & Co. – “The Fool” & “Engine”
Elephant Six Collective- “Lead” (Gerbils song w/ Scott Spillane)
The Olivia Tremor Control’s “Forever” (w/ Jeff Mangum and Fans)
Some incredible photos from the road of the e6ers in their natural habitat can be found HERE. Photos from the show are below…