Live Review: Jeff Mangum/A Hawk and A Hacksaw @ 2640, 9/27/2011

Don't judge me, y'all, but Neutral Milk Hotel is another one of those bands I just never wrapped my head around enough to truly appreciate. Hey, it happens. This doesn't mean, of course, that when a dear friend suggested we venture up to Baltimore to go see the wizard of Neutral Milk Hotel, Mister Jeff Mangum himself perform one of two special shows up in Baltimore that I didn't jump at the chance. And I have to say, I've rarely been so glad that I ventured into sonic lands unfamiliar to me, because this show has turned out to be one of my favorites of the entire year.

The thing is, I wasn't actually intending to write about the show. It was, for all intents and purposes, an off-night for me, a night to just enjoy live music for the sake of enjoying live music. But it was too good a night not to tell y'all about it, and this is one of the only times I've ever attempted to review a show without having taken any notes whatsoever. Bear with me, y'all.

As soon as we got our IDs checked and stepped inside 2640, I was aware of feeling that the night would indeed be a special one. 2640, a cavernous, beautifully shabby space in the shell of an old church, was absolutely the perfect place for the show. Even with the stifling, muggy atmosphere inside (air-conditioning, you were missed), something was hanging in the air. Sweat, secrecy (no photos/cell phones allowed, as per Mangum’s personal request), and much anticipation were the pervasive vibes going around 2640. And then A Hawk and A Hacksaw began to play.

Neutral Milk Hotel roots of their own (former NMH drummer Jeremy Barnes being a member), A Hawk and A Hacksaw was a little bit gypsy, a little bit folksy, and a whole lot otherworldly. Their music, steeped in traditions centuries old, combined with the enchantment of 2640's slightly frayed loveliness and pretty well done lighting effects created quite a mood indeed. I could almost imagine being in another time and place, which isn't a feeling all that many bands can elicit. I totally and completely loved them.

On any other night, I would have been well and truly satisfied to have seen just A Hawk and A Hacksaw. But the star attraction was yet to take the stage, and by this point the anticipation of the large crowd had rubbed off on me and I was excited as can be to see Jeff Mangum. And finally, with a rather respectful roar from the crowd, he arrived, taking a seat with his guitar and getting down to business. And all he did, ladies and gentlemen, over the course of the evening, was blow me away. His manner, somewhat meek and mild and even perhaps more than a little fragile, belies a talent and a presence of considerable force. As soon as he began to sing, I was entranced. As, seemingly, was everyone else in attendance. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been to a show when all was that quiet and still. As I looked around, people were hanging on every note, gazing adoringly at Mangum as he worked through his back catalog. There was this sense of reverence from the crowd directed to the stage, and whether Mangum was cognizant of this he did nothing to dissuade the (well-deserved) adulation.

Even now, I'm finding it a little hard to describe what happened. It was just one of those nights. All I can tell you, friends, is that such nights are rare, and this gal is going to cherish this one for a long, long time.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience, I felt like I was there! I wish I was there! I couldn't take the chance that Jeff Mangum wouldn't perform in CA so a friend and I flew to NY to see him last month. As I expected it was one of the most unforgettable nights of my life. He was amazing, the entire audience was silenced by his guitar and his lyrics and every small comment he made between songs. It really is impossible to fully describe. Waiting this long for him to perform again and flying across the country to see him can only be described as well worth it.

    Thank you for sharing!


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