ATP NJ 2011 Friday: Jeff Mangum Makes People Cry

ATP NJ 2011 Friday: Jeff Mangum Makes People Cry

Though the location has changed, the community feel of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival experience is still intact on New Jersey’s Asbury Park boardwalk. Though nothing can match the vibe and quarters of Kutsher’s — it was like the set of a B-movie horror flick where all festival attendees and participants boarded together — the US debut of ATP: I’ll Be Your Mirror definitely has a lot of things going for it. The main venues, the Convention Center and the Paramount Theatre, showcased a couple of special experiences last night, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the rooms are linked together by a common area arcade. Bouncing from set to set is as easy as it ever was. Stereogum showed up midafternoon to check out the first slate of Friday activity, which included the Holy Grail of indie rock appearances, a rare show from Jeff Mangum….

by Amrit Singh
…And it was great. Great in that way that you couldn’t walk out of Jeff Mangum’s set last night uncertain of his songs’ deep resonance with a everyone in that room, or his ability to perform them beautifully and passionately still, after this most storied of hiatuses. It was 14 songs — all the “Carrot Flowers,” four from Avery, Daniel Johnston’s “True Love…” — and many invocations to the crowd to sing along. So if you were at the Chris Knox benefit and were upset by that aspect of things, be prepared: Jeff’s singing his heart out and clearly enjoys hearing you do it, too. After all this time crooning these classics alone on whatever island he’s been, can you blame?
But this is a festival. Despite Mangum setting up in a seated theater with copious “no electronics” warnings posted around and scene-setting stringed lights, his set came in the midst of a frantic weekend of music altogether more aggressive than his. Many people came to ATP primarily for Jeff, sure, but there isn’t the same intensity of purpose to their presence as you’ll find at, like, Town Hall in New York this month. And there’s no way to fully check at the door the vibe of a music festival that just offered Shellac’s venemous “Wingwalker,” and its more vicious sort of aero-plane, moments earlier. Stragglers filed in, Corona tall boys clinked on the theater ground, etc. The biggest testament to his music’s power may just have been how intensely engaged everyone became within four songs.

Jeff set up with a few Poland Spring bottles and four guitars. He’d touch each before the set was over, though I’m not sure what service they provided aside from making him look less alone on that stage. His being alone up there, of course, was perfectly fine: These songs are stark and majestic and essentially ride on this one man’s presence and voice, a reedy and sonorous thing of sterling beauty that hasn’t rusted an inch in all of these years. It substituted well for those moments that we’re used to hearing horns, and also for those moments we’re used to getting goosebumps. At this stage in his reemergence, nothing more’s needed.

Jeff’s “thank you”s outnumbered his songs for the first three, and otherwise he didn’t have anything to say. (Quote: “I don’t have anything to say.”) The crowd was quick to pick up the slack — a barrage of “I love you!”s came next  — which finally did get him talking. “I would disagree with that. You have a deluded sense of reality.” A beat went by before he probably realized that was ruder than he’d meant. “But I appreciate it.” 

From where we sat, a music stand obscured a direct view of Jeff’s strumming hand, which is where most of the onstage action was. These songs are largely built on the sort of simple, open-position acoustic chords available to anyone. Their ability to be more than that is striking. And it’s funny to think about that music stand’s lyrics, and that this is a world in which Jeff Mangum plays his songs to people who knows his lyrics better than he does. When you think about that, you can appreciate why he expressed gratitude more times than he played songs. They’re a mutual appreciation society, these Jeff shows. And why not. 

SETLIST
01 “Oh Comely”
02 “Two-Headed Boy, Pt. 2″
03 “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea”
04 “Song Against Sex”
05 “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone”
06 “Ghost” (sing liberally)
07 “True Love Will Find You In The End” (Daniel Johnston Cover)
08 “Two-Headed Boy”
09 “Baby For Pree” 
10 “The King Of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1″
11″The King Of Carrot Flowers, Pts 2 & 3″
12 “Holland, 1945″

13 “Naomi” 
14 “Engine”

Abbey Braden
Bonnie "Prince" Billy and his band started their main-room Convention Hall set a good 10 or 15 minutes early, playing to the tiny crowd who happened to show up early in the big room. After one song, Will Oldham explained to the crowd that it wasn't starting time yet, so the set hadn't actually started. Oldham is, of course, a notorious eccentric perfectly willing to bend reality to his will. But other than start-time silliness, it was striking how conventional and crowd-pleasing the Bonnie "Prince" Billy set was. His backing band, which included Cairo Gang collaborator Emmett Kelly, played things expertly warm and loose, stretching Oldham's songs out into immensely appealing rambles and translating, say, the string arrangements on "Lie Down In The Light" into relaxed back-porch jams. The setlist had plenty of Oldham's recent material, but it still reached back for the old favorite "I See A Darkness," and Chavez's Matt Sweeney emerged to play on a couple of songs from his Superwolf project with Oldham. Oldham himself, meanwhile, projected more than enough presence and charisma to fill up the cavernous venue, making grandly Shakespearean gestures while leading absolutely gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies. His combination of idiosyncratic personal vision and play-the-hits populism made him perfect for a festival like this one. -Tom
Abbey Braden
The occasionally reuniting '90s indie O.G.s Chavez opened the large Convention Hall room with a strong set of tense, angular crunch. Frontman Matt Sweeney, in torn jeans and a beat-up baseball cap, projected a sort of weathered anti-glamor. Guitarist Clay Tarver, who recently wrote this totally charming New York Times piece about being an indie-rock dad, gave his kids plenty reason to be proud. -Tom
Abbey Braden
ATP perennials Shellac are, infamously, the most curmudgeonly of the all-curmudgeon Convention Hall bill last night. In that respect, they didn't disappoint last night, with bassist Bob Weston showing nearly as much acid-tongue wit during the between-song Q&A sessions as frontman Steve Albini. But Shellac's reputation as a band of brilliant cranks has come to somewhat obscure what's most important about them: They fucking bring it live. The trio would often extend their tracks into long, sprawling pieces, building tension one ominous snare-hit at a time, before finally exploding into glorious rock-out catharsis. And drummer Todd Trainer, in particular, has perfected a bugged-out form of showmanship; he's hold out his eight-foot ride cymbal over the crowd, for instance, letting audience members bash it, or he'd prowl the stage while whacking a snare at irregular intervals. As a unit, the trio did serious damage and immediately set a high watermark for every other band of the weekend. -Tom
Abbey Braden
Thinking Fellers Union Local 282
Abbey Braden
A Hawk And A Hacksaw took to the Paramount Theatre stage, and it was a venue that fit the inclinations of their orchestral, theatrical rock, working in a Béla Bartók tune midset. -Corban
Abbey Braden
Hannibal Buress
Abbey Braden
Reggie Watts
Abbey Braden
The Album Leaf
Abbey Braden
Cults

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