Seeing Jeff Mangum Live.

August 8, 2011.

There was so much driving and so much risk of the car breaking down, but Robert and I made it to the First Unitarian Church in Burlington. Here's the run-down of what may have been the best show I'll evereverever attend:

- After camping in the will-call line for a while, we're rewarded with really nice seats in the sixth row of pews. We wait for another hour and a half.

- Tall Firs comes on. Two unassuming [and hilarious] middle-aged guys with a knack for guitar interplay and deep, pained vocals. Loved it.

- Andrew, Scott, & Laura. I catch that Scott is Scott Spilane from Neutral Milk Hotel, but I forget what the other two are from. Their set bores me to death from its redundancy and they play for about a half-hour too long. I'm antsy at this point.

- All antsyness washes away as I catch my first glimpse of the man, the myth, the legend, Jeff Mangum. We applaud him as the background music stops. He makes sure his guitars are in place, makes a "one minute" motion, and then walks offstage. We applaud again. He re-enters. We applaud a third time. Natch.

He invites us to sing along and breaks into "O Comely" and suddenly it hits me just what is happening. I am witnessing the most elusive and, arguably, the most important independent musician shake the dust off of his work and play again. And it sounds as if he never left. That authentic Mangum (howl, warble, whatever you want to call it) is as solid as it was circa '97.

At one point, the PA system goes out. At first, everyone's a bit pissed, but Jeff has a solution. He plays unplugged. He steps down from the pulpit, brings a chair, and some of us crowd around him, crouched in the center aisle and awaiting with wide eyes. He starts "Two Headed Boy Pt. 2."

Many people in the pews sang along during the set, but the participation is most audible here without any microphone to support Jeff's voice. I'm just close enough to him so that I can hear his voice clearly. The voices mix perfectly and reverberate off the walls of the church. He eggs on the crowd to sing even louder and the "When we break..." verse swells like a hymn. I am certain I'll never experience anything quite like that again.

The song unfortunately has to end, and the PA comes back on. But I, along with a few others, stay seated in the middle aisle for the remainder of the set. Front and center. Even better.
After the show, Jeff gets more-or-less swarmed by fans. I go up and shake his hand. Then, nervously: "Uh, I just want to say... thanks for being a huge influence on me, musically." Someone scoffs behind me. He smiles, looks a bit stoned, maybe. And says something along the lines of "Yeah, man, thanks."

He signs the back of my ticket, but I pull it out from him mid-sign. I'm just that nervous. Still smiling, he signs again, and I head off, realizing how much I was shaking during that entire encounter.

Undeniably awkward, but easily, EASILY the pinnacle of my summer.

I could talk forever, but it's almost 4AM, I just got back from 7 hours of driving in a single day, and I'm desperate for sleep.

Here are the songs he played: (in a bit of a jumbled order, and missing a track or two, I think)

O Comely
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
A Baby For Pree
Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone
Two Headed Boy Pt. 2
Two Headed Boy
True Love Will Find You In The End (Daniel Johnston cover)
The King Of Carrot Flowers
Song Against Sex
Holland, 1945