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Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum to bring raw, emotional sound to Southern Theatre in Columbus

Courtesy of Corey Greenwell

The last time Jeff Mangum performed in Columbus, it was a complete surprise.

During a stop at the Wexner Center for the Arts on the Elephant 6 Recording Company’s Holiday Surprise Tour in 2008, Mangum came out unannounced and put on a short performance.

“After the show he just came out with a guitar and stood in the middle of the crowd and played one song,” said Chuck Helm, director of performing arts at the Wexner Center. “People went pretty wild about it.”

When Mangum returns to Columbus for a concert Monday at the Southern Theatre at 8 p.m., he will perform before a sold-out crowd.

“It was incredible. I was expecting there to be a great demand, although it is always hard to tell,” said Jennifer Wray, marketing and media assistant at the Wexner Center. “But it sold out within a few hours.”

Mangum is best known from the 1990s indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel.

The band “amassed a huge cult following even though they only released two records,” Helm said.

Despite developing a devoted following while in Neutral Milk Hotel, Mangum stayed out of the limelight in the years following the band’s breakup, Wray said.

“He has not been around since 1998, and he has really kept out of the public eye since then,” he said. “He very rarely plays shows.”

However, Mangum remained involved in the Elephant 6 Recording Company, which he had established with some friends in the late 1980s, according to the company’s website.

It was on a tour with this group that Mangum made his surprise appearance at the Wexner Center in 2008.

“It was an incredibly special moment and one that was memorable for those who were lucky enough to experience it,” Wray said.  

Helm said a lot of Mangum’s music deals with heavy emotional topics, such as isolation.

“There’s a raw, emotional quality to it,” he said.

That is what some listeners said they enjoy about his music.

“It’s cool because the subject matter is more serious and a little more on the dark, depressing side, but it’s still good,” said Sam Fadel, a first-year in pre-business.

Mark Adkins, a first-year in psychology, said he also enjoys Mangum’s talent on the guitar.

“It’s some of the more impressive guitar work I’ve heard in acoustic music,” Adkins said.

This concert is part of the Next @ Wex series, which Wray said is a popular concert series at the Wexner Center that showcases both newer indie musicians and well-known bands.

“(Mangum) has been around for a while,” Wray said, “but he is still an indie guy.”

Helm said that at the concert on Monday he expects Mangum to play a mixture of his songs.

“I would expect probably quite a bit of material from Neutral Milk Hotel, but he has written stuff since then and I’m sure he’ll do those songs too,” Helm said.  

This concert is an especially exciting opportunity for fans who did not get the chance to see Mangum perform before he went on hiatus.

“(I’m most excited) just to get to see songs from an album I’ve been listening to for years actually get played live,” Adkins said.

Indie bands Tall Firs and Briars of North America are scheduled to open the show.

For this tour, Mangum was not offering interviews, Wray said, and no photography or recording is allowed at the show.

Tickets for the show are sold out, but Helm encourages anyone still interested to check with the Wexner Center or at the Southern Theatre on the day of the show, as some tickets may become available.

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