Lately I’ve been unable to stop listening to Hospitality’s debut album, which I reviewed here. It’s a marvel – sweet, funny, extraordinarily tuneful and full of unexpected twists. Cheers to my first favorite new band of 2012!
My ticket stub from last night says “Jeff Mangum: 2012 Spring Season.” I’m thinking this morning about what a wonderful phrase that is, how unlikely it once would have seemed. It’s a new year, and Jeff Mangum’s comeback tour is rolling on. In a few months he’ll play Coachella. How lucky are we?
Seven years ago, I was there when he came out for one song – shaky at first, then transcendent – at an Olivia Tremor Control reunion show at the Bowery Ballroom. It felt like a very big deal. I waited another five years before huddling in the basement of Le Poisson Rouge with maybe 500 other barely-believing fans, all of us quietly whispering along in the dark to every word of his five-song acoustic set. Those tickets, which went toward Chris Knox’s medical bills, weren’t cheap, but we didn’t care. Then came last year’s triumphant return – an actual tour! – and I found myself at Town Hall in October, singing along to “Holland, 1945” at the top of my lungs.
I’ve seen him enough times now that last night’s BAM show felt less like a miraculous fever dream, more like a simple performance by one of my favorite musicians. That didn’t make it any less special. Jeff said he was feeling a little weak, but it hardly showed as he delivered one white-knuckled tour de force after another. Three songs in, someone asked for “Little Birds,” and he complied with a rendition so spectacularly raw and painful it left me shaken. Someone else asked for “Communist Daughter,” and he declined with a joke.
Where the shows at Le Poisson Rouge and Town Hall were strictly solo acoustic, this time he edged closer to the old Neutral Milk Hotel sound, inviting Julian Koster to play his singing saw on “Engine,” bringing the horn players from the Music Tapes out for the end of “Oh Comely.” They all did “The Fool” together to end the main set. For the encore, he called us down to the foot of the stage, where we swayed and hugged and sang along to “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” one more time. Jeff was smiling wide.
Dennis The Menace is a rapper from Huntsville, Alabama. Never heard of dude before he followed me on Twitter this weekend, but I’m feeling some of the tracks he’s posted online - particularly "Maria," a buoyant weed jam built around a sample from Michael Jackson’s 1972 solo debut. (The instrumental appears to be lifted from here.) Dennis’ rapping has a sly, quick T.I./Young Dro-ish aspect that I like.
Just got back from seeing Sing Your Song, a deft thumbnail portrait of Harry Belafonte’s remarkable life. Here is someone whose very existence as a dazzlingly charismatic, hugely popular black performer in the 1950s and 1960s was itself a radical challenge to the status quo. (Petula Clark touched his sleeve on national television – quelle horreur!) Belafonte didn’t stop there, of course, using his fame to fight tirelessly for freedom in its broadest definition all through the subsequent decades.
After the film, he arrived in person for a brief Q&A session. Asked by an audience member if he still considered himself an optimist at age 84, he said he does, citing the Occupy movement as proof that nonviolent resistance remains a powerful tool for change. He drew a direct thread from the economic protests of the last few months back to his own work on the front lines with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama. “We heard a lot of people dismiss us as irrelevant,” Belafonte noted with a wry smile. “Just like people try to do now with Occupy Wall Street.”