in performance: jeff mangum/the music tapes/william tyler

jeff mangum.

The sizable and immensely spirited turnout on hand for last night’s Jeff Mangum performance at the Kentucky Theatre triggered this thought. How is it that this crowd became so transfixed upon a series of scruffy, solo acoustic psychedelic folk tunes, most of which were recorded in the late ‘90s by an artist who seldom tours and whose only recordings these days tend to be archival compilations of past work.

Maybe it speaks to the sort of devotion that Mangum’s fabled ‘90s collective, Neutral Milk Hotel, still enjoys. Perhaps it had to do with the fact last night’s program inaugurated the fourth annual Boomslang festival, which kicks into full gear this weekend. Or it could be Mangum’s ties to the Elephant 6 indie pop franchise, which also includes former Lexingtonian Robert Schneider of The Apples in Stereo.

All of those reasons, along with two intriguing opening acts, played a role. But the bottom line was that the baker’s dozen of Neutral Milk Hotel tunes Mangum offered connected in a remarkably complete way with the Boomslang crowd. From the show-opening Oh Comely to the set closing Ghost, the audience bestowed full rock star fascination upon the performance.

As a vocalist, Mangum often sounded like a homier version of The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. Between songs, he offered greetings by way of shy mumbles. But when the music was on, as it most definitely was during the fanciful lyric sway of The King of Carrot Flowers and Two Headed Boy, Mangum sounded somewhat akin to a modern day version of Donovan. His delivery wasn’t as flowery. But it terms of modern folk psychedelia, it was poetic in own unvarnished way.

The Music Tapes, led by Neutral Milk Hotel alumnus Julian Koster, preceded with a set of unexpected instrumental vignettes forged into what were essentially psychedelic parlor songs. Pump organ, tuba, a banjo played with bows and the band’s somewhat clownish centerpiece, a seven foot metronome, colored a performance fueled by an eager but ultimately scattered pop sensibility. Far more arresting was Koster’s addition of musical saw to Engine during Mangum’s set to create a pop atmosphere that, for all its sense of fancy, seemed far more grounded the Music Tapes’ mischief.

To be honest, show opener William Tyler was as enjoyable as much as either of the headliners. A Nashville guitarist with an obvious love for the folk traditions and mutations of the great John Fahey, Tyler performed a set of brittle, exacting guitar instrumentals, the best of which (The Cult of the Peacock Angel) were orchestrated by curious but oddly harmonious drones to create music fortified by indie ingenuity but and inhabited by wonderfully antique soul.  

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