You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down

October 31st, 2011

Jeff Mangum – Town Hall – October 29, 2011

Jeff Mangum’s story is familiar: A talented young artist creates a masterpiece only to shun the public and seek seclusion. In Mangum’s case, the great work is In the Aeroplane over the Sea and the exile, recently broken, lasted roughly a decade. Like in the case of authors J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee, his fame grew with his continued absence—a compelling narrative. Mangum, however, chose to return, and his sold-out show at Town Hall on Saturday night proved that his fans have never left.

Mangum, dressed in a denim shirt, tan pants and a newsboy cap, began his performance promptly at 9 p.m. His setup, positioned in the middle of the stage, consisted of a chair flanked by four acoustic guitars, each serving a specific tonal purpose dictated by the given song. A particularly twangy guitar was used for the sing-alongs “Holland 1945” and “Two-Headed Boy.” But, the most moving moments came when Mangum used a rich-sounding chocolate brown guitar, which created warm instrumentation as a counterpoint to his sharp vocals.

For it is Mangum’s voice—inflected, emotive and mysterious—that makes his music so compelling. And when he chanted such lyrics, as “I love you, Jesus Christ” from “The King of Carrot Flowers,” the audience could not help but answer the call. Everyone loves a comeback story. —Jared Levy