By AUSTIN FRALEY
For many around me in the Kentucky Theatre, this moment was surreal—a defining moment of hipster history (although, of course, they themselves wouldn’t call it that). For some reason, in the past few years, Lexington has become somewhat of a central location for underground and indie music. The annual Boomslang Festival that has been going on for four years now has proven that. However, this year was different because the lineup included Jeff Mangum— a man whom some say has been deified by the indie music community.
In 1998, Mangum and his band Neutral Milk Hotel released a concept album called “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” a collection of songs inspired by “The Diary of Anne Frank,” vividly describing the Holocaust. Since then, the album has become a favorite among indie rockers who identify Neutral Milk Hotel as the indie Beatles. However, Mangum was disillusioned with his success, and fell out of media attention for over ten years, earning himself the nickname “The J.D. Salinger of Music.”
Without explanation, Mangum recently began touring again. Although he played alone, some former band-mates and friends accompanied and opened for him, including the Music Tapes, who are known for their weird instrumentation (bowed banjo, melodica, a 7-foot tall functioning old-fashioned metronome and a saw). Although the stage was littered with all of the Music Tapes’ bizarre instruments, when Mangum came onstage, he paid no attention to them. He simply sat down in a chair, picked up an acoustic guitar, and began strumming the song “Oh Comely,” one of his most well-known songs, and a surprising choice with which to open.
When he was done, the crowd cheered, Mangum said thank you, and he sat down the guitar. He picked up a bottle of water and took a drink of it. He sat the water bottle down, picked up the guitar, and played another song.
The whole concert was like this. Mangum barely said anything between songs, yet the people loved him and cheered for him louder than they had for any of the more complex musicians who came before him. As I stood in an ironic crowd of nonconformists, I wondered how such simple music could impact so many people. This was an amazing concert, but not because of how great or complex the music was. Rather, it was in the emotion of the singer and the lyrics. Sometimes the simplest things are the most moving.