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.
I was there, the crowd was tough.
In the 90’s NMH would cause the audience to go nuts, and bounce and headbang. Everyone just stood there and got uncomfortable if you, trying to express the musical ecstasy you felt through dance, accidentally stepped on their feet.
But I think that’s a problem with our self-conscious culture. It’s not an individual or group thing. It’s Everyone.
It’s clear that you didn’t hear Music Tapes well, which is too bad. They were fantastic. I had never heard them before, and while I was reticent at first to really accept them, Julian Koster is one of the sweetest, most genuine artists I’ve ever heard. He was telling stories. He’s very much following his heart, and was preaching a love-everyone-philosophy that made ME feel good for the next few days. I think you were meant to laugh out loud at his performance. It’s supposed to be a good time.
I see what you’re trying to say about hipsters, but you’re being just as judgmental as they are, and you certainly are one yourself. (You have all sorts of blogs and testaments to your self importance, I don’t know how you can feel you transcend hipsterdom.) Clearly the night wasn’t what it could have been, but your post makes me want to say something in defense of Jeff, Julian and the crowd. Everyone was doing the best they could, and sometimes it doesn’t work.
Nobody needs your nitpicking.
I don’t expect you to take this to heart. People are defensive. But maybe next time focus on what you liked and don’t set yourself up as the know all concert-critic.
Hi Clay – Thanks so much for taking the time to respond, I’m sorry if you felt like I was nitpicking. Obviously Jeff Mangum’s music is phenomenal, but I wasn’t able to enjoy it the way I wanted to because of the crowd, so I felt like that’s what was most worth describing that evening.
It’s funny that you said that about the Music Tapes, because I included a Soundcloud link to their music which I was listening to as I wrote the post – so if you have a good song to recommend maybe I just chose a bad sampling.
And anyone who knows me can tell you I’m not a hipster. I care too much about things, which is why I really did take your comments to heart. My websites aren’t about me, they’re about the beautiful things that people way more talented than I am are somehow able to create. Jeff Mangum is one of those people, but you’re right – I should have described that myself instead of just assuming everyone’s already heard enough of how awesome he is.