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. 

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”