Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jeff Mangum at The Sheldon

Sooooo... it all comes down to guns, the guy from Notre Dame, Lance Armstrong and the budget, and Newtown and getting your own AR-15 to live in this dangerous, DANGEROUS country we live in...except it does not have to be.  There is always live music.

The other night I had the opportunity to go to a show at the Sheldon with my son Jon.  It is a blessing to do something you really like and when you can do it with your son it is even more better.  The show we went to see was Jeff Mangum who was the genius behind the seminal indie band Neutral Milk Hotel.  Magnum and the band were working the scene when they broke in 1998 with the seminal “Aeroplane Over The See” and it’s creepy beautiful “King of carrot Flowers”.  This kind of reminds me that radio was already dead even before the millenium.  Anyway the album was huge for indy rock and garnered critical acclaim when Mangum broke up the band and if lore is correct had a nervous breakdown.

If you listen to his music you would not be surprised.  He has a wailing voice with a sustain that is creepy when he carries the notes out.  It is just all angst and suffering and everything that made that brief, beutiful advent of indie such a heartnreaking thing... anyway... The Sheldon is a beautiful venue.  I think I have been there three or four times.  I saw garrison Keilor read poetry there and I saw someone do a Billie Holliday revue there which was cool and I think my son Patrick must have sang there or auditioned there or we went to see a play there or something.  Anyway, very cool venue.  Bathrooms are far from where you watch the show but comfortable seat and great site lines.  I do not know how many it seats but it cannot be more than 300.  It has a full bar attached next door in the gallery which is nice but again, a little walk for an old man.

And I am an old man.  the crowd for this show was trying as hard as anyone in St. louis can try to be hipster chic and cool.  It was interesting for an old man but ⅔ of the men had beards and when I say “beards” I dont mean david Ducovny “oh I forgot to shave have sex with me” beards but real beards.  Grizzly Adams (oops dating myself) bee hive type beards.  Seriously ⅔ of the crowd.  I had never seen such a thing.  I would say average age was about 32 and the crowd was pleasant and excited to see a hero.  The opening band was “The Tall Firs” and they were pretty cool.  two guys with electric guitars and it was kind of melodic.  they both sang like “The Crash test Dummies” with these deep mumbling lines but the songs and the guitars were excellent and I will check them out further on Spottify.

Mangum came on after a brief intermission and the crowd literally (for such a subdued venue) went wild.  One of the nice things about the Sheldon for an old man is the seating for everyone and the site lines, and the cocktails which you can bring in.  It is very much classy theatre with a nice stage with wooden panelling looking like a church (which I believe it was).  he walked out and sat down.  People hollered songs and he was pleasant and dismissive.  The cool thing about a show like this is that it is a guy with a limited but brilliant body of work, just coming out and playing to his fans.  He could sell more tickets at a bigger place (this was sold out) but the idea is just to deliver product, an event, a personal connection, and he does.  He started out right away with songs from “Aeroplane” and the crowd sang with him.  he apologized for being in bad voice and was taking hits from an inhaler and water bottle. He played “King of Carrot Flowers Part I” and had the crowd singing and then invited folks to come up closer.  No one (it being St. Louis) really wants to be dick and block other peoples view but when people did not move he chided them... and then they came.  We were in the balcony but about 40 people came up and either sat right in front or actually sat on the stage with him.  it was cool.  And all of them knew the words... to every song.  I remember being a fan like that and having a passion like that.  but barely.

This is the new model.  People of a certain age who have put out some quality music have the opportunity to continue to give their fans something of value, at a decent price and continue to make a living.  I don’t know whether Mangum is still writing anything but what he did is so famous and so meaningful to their audience that the opportunity to sit 5 feet away from his while he plays and sings, and they sing along.  It is creating these type of experiences that is the future survival.  Finding ways to connect that have nothing to do with record companies, or radio or selling albums or, god forbid, coming to play the local casino.  Mangum and the Tall Firs, with the help of a great local venue made memories.  Sometimes life is not about the 24 hour news cycle, and the stupidest athletes and guns and the budget.  Sometimes is can be about music and... pure joy.

No comments: