Tessa is majoring in Archaeology and Anthropology and likes bunnies, osteology, Gogol Bordello, and shoes.

Show Review: Jeff Mangum at the Strand Capitol 2/6/2013

First off, let me establish my cred.

I began listening to Neutral Milk Hotel about 8 years ago  (I can hear you saying “pffffft”) when I was in 9th grade and finally learning about good music. Cut me some slack!  So I bought In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, talked endlessly about how it was the greatest thing, and was heartbroken when I realized that Jeff Mangum no longer tours.  I resigned myself to listening to him on album and acting like, if I ever did see him, he would probably suck.

Neutral Milk Hotel started in the 1990s and released a full length album,  On Avery Island, in 1994.  The band released its second full album in 1998, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, to high acclaim for Mangum’s creative lyrics and the unique instrumentation.  Throughout the album the character of Anne Frank is present along with provocative characters such as the Two-Headed Boy matched with equally provocative lyrics.  After the release of the album and the subsequent touring, Neutral Milk Hotel started turning down show opportunities and officially went on an indefinite hiatus in 1999.  Mangum began playing solo shows again in 2010 and scheduled touring dates in 2011.  I was reluctant to see him the first time he came my way.  I loved Aeroplane’s unique sound of horns and woodwinds, I was afraid an acoustic set would make his stories flat.

I have never been so happy to be wrong.
Dan and I walked into the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center in York and could immediately feel the static of excitement in the room (or maybe it was from the crazy amount of beards, flannel, and wool on my fellow concert goers.)  The opening act Tall Firs was decent and I have to give it to them.  They knew no one was there to see them, still they put on a great set.  Their music was very soothing, kind of like if whales and Mogwai produced an offspring and peppered it with Peter and the Wolf.  I would check them out if you have insomnia.

Around 9pm Jeff Mangum walked on stage.  He was wearing a red wool sweater, cords, and an army cap.  Honestly he could have been sitting next to you in this crowd and, without a second look, you wouldn’t have realized who he was.  Also he had an epic beard.  (It has been growing it since May, he said)

He sat down on a plush beat-up chair, picked up a guitar, strummed a note and started playing the first chords of “Oh Comely”  When he sang the first note it was like being pulled under by a wave.  It was loud, it was powerful, it was raw, it was beautiful, it was real.  The sheer volume he produced with his voice just rolled through the crowd and everyone sat in stunned silence.  His nasally pitched singing sounded better than on the recordings.

After, the crowd burst into cheers and applause and he began to play “Two-Headed Boy Pt 1.”  It was quieter, more restrained, but still so powerful.  With a quick “thanks” and a “This is called ‘Gardenhead’,” he continued.  There was this impression of shyness melting away with every song, every note.  Everyone in that room loved him and it was as if he was making sure of that before he engaged directly with us.  After “Ferris Wheel on Fire” and a cover of Rocky Erickson’s “I Love the Living You”  he encouraged the crowd to sing along because he could “tell you want to.”  And with that he went into “The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. One”, followed by part two and three.  As the room echoed with a thousand mouths proclaiming “i love you Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ I love you,” it was absolute magic.

“Holland 1945” and “Oh Sister” followed.  I have to say “Oh Sister” is much more disturbing when played live.  He followed with “Two-Headed Boy Pt Two,” “Song Against Sex,” and “Ghost”.  During “Ghost” the whole crowd flocked to the front of the theatre (we had been sitting in seats)  and sang with him.  It was beautiful.

However the enthusiasm was nothing compared to the whole crowd singing along to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” as his encore.

This show was filled with emotion. You could feel the love from the crowd for Jeff and his music, his lyrics and his voice, his poetry.  I was told it would be awkward, watching someone who doesn’t want to perform play live.  It was anything but.  He was personable, he bantered with the crowd and told some short anecdotes.  He was reserved but he didn’t come off like an asshole, just someone who is really shy.  Irregardless of his persona on stage, he is one of the most amazing musicians  I have seen.  The power in his voice and the feeling he projects into the lyrics make the characters in his songs come to life and gives you chills to be present in the wake of it all.

As we know from Oh Comely “soft, silly music is meaningful, magical”  and that was never more true than at this show.

Link to Neutral Milk Hotel’s website:


Tall Firs:


Here are some links to photos of the show:



Here is a link to The Strand’s website:





Foster the People

Foster the People




This is the first full album from Foster the People. It’s electronic and synthy, but remains grounded in perfectly danceable pop.  Torches can seem a little gimicky and cheesy at times, perhaps even unmemorable, but the tracks “Pumped Up Kicks”  and  “Don’t Stop” are pretty good.  But the album does drag a bit, it gets repetitive, and you feel as if you’ve heard it all before, which may not be a completely a bad thing, But it gets strong again on the track “Miss You”



The Ladybug Transistor

The Ladybug Transistor

Clutching Stems


It’s been 16 years since this Brooklyn based band started making albums, this is their 7th.  The lush pop music that has characterized The Ladybug Transistor’s sound is still true as ever in Clutching Stems. This is the first album released after, drummer, San Fadyl’s death in 2007.  It is apparent that this new album was made with their past drummer’s memory in mind.  The album is sad but hopeful, most songs about love, lost unrequited, found. Lead singer, Gary Olson’s voice is nicely complimented  throughout the album by Frida Eklund’s backing vocals.



bedouin soundclash

Bedouin Soundclash

Light the Horizon


This is the Toronto based group’s fourth full length album and it is very very good.  The mix of punk, reggae, rock and soul work together to create a full sound which leaves the listener satisfied.  The opening track “Mountain Top”  is so upbeat and light it borders on Vampire Weekend type cheesy, but it remains fun and serious enough to keep you listening.  By the third song, “May you Be the Road”  which is so personal and touching you’re hooked.  Coeur de pirate features on the song “Brutal Hearts”  which after listening to you’ll also feel would be a perfect song on any mix cd.  Give them a listen, I like them, it’s a serious kind of album, with hints of mournfulness and melancholy amidst the reggae.



When Saints Go Machine

Konkylie ★★★★★/5


Two years in the making Konkylie, When Saints Go Machine’s debut album might be perfection.  This is electronic synth music at its best.  There is warmth and an organic feel that I have rarely found in this genre.  This feeling is probably contributed to by the spaces that the vocals were recorded in, forests and tunnels.  There is so much detail in the music that it does not seem repetitive or boring, ever.  The album opens with the title track and sets the bar for the many layer musical experience about to ensue.  My favorite track would be Parix, it is at this song where the album takes off and blossoms. I may be in love, go listen now.

Susanna & the Grinders

Twine ★★★★★/5


This is amazing.  Susanna &the Grinders is a band from Sweden composed of Susanna Risberg and her brother Bjorn. Everything from the calm, floating, classic rock influenced guitar riffs and simple drum beats, to Susannas unforgiving, raw, and beautiful voice, all combine to create interesting and powerfully emotional music.  Risberg’s jazz background comes through in her vocal melodies.  If you want an identifiable new twist on the old bro/sis band act check them out.




Gloss Drop ★★★/5


This album is really fun with upbeat popish and alt rock melodies that are all over the place and sometimes chaotic.  It is not easy listening and somewhat not easy to listen to, but its worth listening to.    There is tension in the music, as if some urgent message needs to be conveyed to the listener right now.  But unlike their first album this seems to have a plot, a plan, but it still manages to surprise and be unpredictable but without the, what can we do to top that feel.  It should be noted that their quirky cartoonish vocals have been replaced by steel drums.  It was a good decision.


Bobby ★★★★★/5


This avant gard mellow band mixes a beautiful and sad fictional background with melancholy and complex melodies.  The seven musicians that create the collective known as Bobby each bring their own style and influences which causes the music to be layered, creating a deepness that many bands seem to miss entirely.  Bobby uses multiple pedal effects however, the use is reserved and not tedious, the musicians know when to back off and allow just an acoustic guitar playing a simple 5 note progression to shine through.  This is a band to nap to, to relax to, to just listen to.



Oy Vey

Botanical Curiosity ★★★★/5

This is Oy Vey’s first album, which was recorded in the lead singer’s home studio, creates an amazing first impression.  The band is composed of Bryce Aubrey (vocals and guitars) and Kevin Corcoran (keyboards and vocals), whose creative lyrics and energetic and fun melodies immediately puts the listener into a good mood.  “White Lies,” the second track on the album, has some arena rock influence thrown in but it’s fun, it’s catchy.  Each song can stand alone as a great single and would go well in any roadtrip mix.  Give them a listen and a look.


Balkans ★★★/5


Frantic punk pop rock is a phrase which perfectly describes this 10 track LP.  Balkans, a fairly new band from Atlanta, Georgia, mixes simple riffs and grungy vocals with seemingly stream of consciousness lyrics.  This album and this band is fun and has a beautiful energy, but is not for those that like pretty  vocals and complex melodies.  The rawness vocals and the lyrics add to the bands charm and causes them to stand out from overly produced bands of the same genre.