On Monday night in Providence there was a man with a guitar surrounded by hipsters on all sides. Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel was full of them, but what else could you expect from a solo performance by the man behind Neutral Milk Hotel? Jeff Mangum fit the part too – unkept beard, lumberjack style clothes, and an I-only-care-about-the-music-who-let-you-people-in-here attitude. He was a hipster god, but he sang so well it made me wonder why his audience wasn’t a little more diverse.
His opening band answered that question though – started by another member of Neutral Milk Hotel, The Music Tapes exist somewhere between performance art and actual music, safe to say it wasn’t too close to either. All of their artsy vibes were lost on everyone more than ten feet back – we couldn’t see what was on their little TV (why does a band need a TV in the first place?) and we couldn’t understand anything Julian was saying in his excessive ramblings between songs, although I feel like I should write “songs” instead because it was more just noise than anything with a melody or rhythm. They also brought a giant metronome on stage that was only used for their first bit and just sort of loomed there the rest of the time, like an obviously symbolic backdrop. It was hard not to laugh out loud, but hipsters are great at staring daggers and making you feel like you must just not “get it.”
Jeff was fantastic though, singing “Two Headed Boy,” “King of Carrot Flowers Parts 1 and 2”, “Ghost,” and “Aeroplane Over the Sea.” It wasn’t till after the encore came that people emerged on the stage with him though, and the most featured instrument was a saw. The move made the whole performance seem kind of lazy, like he was banking on an encore to finish the set, a feeling compounded by the fact that he couldn’t have been on stage for more than an hour. Plus, Lupo’s is a concert hall, no seats and intended for dancing, which is not what you want to do while watching one man earnestly play his guitar, even if it is a fast-paced song.
Don’t believe me about The Music Tapes? Listen to them on Soundcloud and let me know if you think I’m wrong.