A sold-out crowd buzzed in anticipation during the eight o'clock hour, some taking in a hushed set by the warm up band Tall Firs while others milled about the Sheldon lobby.
At about nine, the lights dimmed and Mangum walked onto the stage. After a brief pause of recognition, the crowd erupted, issuing a thundering reception for the man who last played here in February 1998. That was the same month -- nay, the same week -- that NMH's second and final album, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," was released.
Strumming the first notes of "Two-Headed Boy," Mangum quickly drew the crowd into his strange musical universe, weaving his stories and punctuating them with his trademark vocal runs -- often less than pretty, but always on key.
From there, Mangum launched into his odyssey, "King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1, 2 & 3," spitting onstage after completing the marathon of a song.
Mangum soldiered on with his acoustic-guitar arsenal, following up "Carrot Flowers" with ""Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone" and "Engine." His energy and connection with his fans begged the proposition: "Imagine this guy around the campfire at your annual Carlyle Lake trip!"
Sound-wise, the normally pristine venue endured problems throughout the night. The sound system squawked and fed back throughout the set. Mangum's vocals were unacceptably tinny through the house speakers, especially given the Sheldon's high standards.
Even still, Mangum's stage presence shone through as he encouraged the crowd to sing along, and perhaps move closer to the stage to get a better look.
At this point, a rush to the stage ensued with denizens moving down to stage level and sitting Indian style onstage and off. Mangum rewarded the chaotic mess with "Holland, 1945." From here on out it was a revival scene, complete with crowd generated backing vocals and foot stomps.
The new configuration in the hall swayed when Mangum played his great waltz, "Oh Comely." They cheered wildly when, in falsetto, Mangum executed the song's crescendo, authored so long ago.
This Sheldon show was important for several reasons. It was a key stop on Mangum's first ever nationwide solo tour. It was Mangum's first performance here since playing the Galaxy in 1998. It was the first time many younger NMH devotees got to hear their favorite songwriter sing his song. And, finally, it was freaking Jeff Mangum playing the freaking Sheldon Concert Hall.
The crowd reaction was out of control. But still, I couldn't help wishing for a multi-instrumentalist to color Mangum's spare acoustic tunes. A horn here or an accordion there would have propelled this enthusiastic crowd into the stratosphere.
King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1, 2 & 3
Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone
Song Against Sex
Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea