Last Thursday night, 800 people crammed into a venue in NYC to witness the first performance by Jeff Mangum in 12 years. Mangum is the man behind the legendary indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel, a group all the more legendary by the day. Indie rock has spent the past decade constructing Mangum into its Salinger — the reluctant oracle whose code refuses to be cracked. His music is deeply emotional and often impenetrable — his most beloved album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, spins a fevered dream of Anne Frank’s plight into a empathic masterpiece. It’s as fragile as it is beautiful.
Thursday Mangum took the stage to play a Kickstarter-funded benefit for Chris Knox, himself a cult legend in his native New Zealand. Mangum played just five songs (more than the crowd had hoped for) that were among the best I’ve ever seen. I was not alone. From the NY Times to the Washington Post to assortedblogs, the reviews were rightly rapturous. Twitter lit up after the show:
But there’s another part of this story that I wanted to share. After the Mangum set I was hanging around backstage with a handful of other folks when Ben Goldberg — the man who organized the show and launched the project — came into the dressing area with a young couple named Marina Giovannelli and Andrew Scherr.
Marina and Andrew had driven down from Boston for the show, but — thanks to work, traffic, scheduling, etc — they had missed Mangum’s performance. Having heard this, Ben immediately found them and brought them backstage to meet Jeff Mangum. He was incredibly gracious. Marina, Andrew, and Jeff talked for a good 15 minutes, asking questions, awkwardly bantering, Marina glancing around the room with a “can you believe this???” look.
The excuses for conversation having reached their limit, Marina and Andrew asked if they could get an autograph or something, their faces acknowledging the unlikeliness of the request. But Jeff said sure, and suddenly he was sitting down with a ripped up piece of cardboard, sketching aliens — “I’ve drawn these all my life,” he said — for them with a Sharpie. We all stood around looking but not looking, suddenly this bad timing turning into a seriously lucky break.
As Marina and Andrew left I grabbed them and introduced myself. They’re both Kickstarter fans (they loved the Boston-based Akimenko Meats project), and they were kind enough to share their amazing prize for a photo, which you can see below. Thanks to Marina and Andrew for their time and generosity, and congrats to them for the best Kickstater reward ever.
Many more artists played the show than just Mangum, though he’s understandably gotten the accolades. Thanks to everyone for participating, from the bands to the backers. Though it was by far the least important part of this story, it was amazing to look around and think, “Every single person is here because they used Kickstarter.” A special night all around.