Neutral Milk Hotel – Live at Jittery Joe’s (as Jeff Mangum)

This posthumous live album was recorded at a bar/coffee shop owned by a friend of Jeff’s with ALS, hence “Jittery Joe’s.” While I don’t share his, frankly, offensive sense of humour regarding terminal illnesses that result in uncontrollable spazzing ‘n’ twitching, I do enjoy hearing one of my favourite musicians sharing a well-played live set on acoustic guitar to what sounds like an audience of no more than fifty people, including a surprising heartwarming crying baby. This album features eleven songs, mostly from the last two albums, and one thirty-second intro. It’s happy times!

Ol Jeff sounds exactly the same live as he does on record. Discerning readers of my website might say “but Myles, that was a badly formed sentence back there.” To them I say this: “I’m really sorry and ashamed, but I don’t feel like rewriting it.” Discerning readers of my website might also say “but Myles, I thought you didn’t like live albums!?!?” To them I say this: “this live album is better than most for these reasons:

1. Non-album songs! There are three here: a bitter, upbeat short song called “I Will Bury You In Time” that’s apparently about “being a rock star, in a hole on the beach, making out,” and, more importantly, a beautiful, awkwardly honest Phil Spector song called “I Love How You Love Me.” Good god it’s pretty! “I love how your eyes close / Whenever you kiss me. / And when I’m away from you / I love how you miss me. / I love the way your kiss is always heavenly / But darling most of all / I love how you love me.” AHHHH! And lastly, the childish, trying-to-be-upbeat-but-obviously-depressing “Engine.” I’ll tell you what that’s about in a paragraph or so, but the key line goes, painfully slowly, “I am an engine and I’m rolling on.” It’s also the B-side of “Holland, 1945″ from the last album.”

2. Jeff’s adorable personality! Mainly expressed through his self-consciousness while talking. For examples:

“Is it tinny enough for everybody? I think it’s tinny enough….” *Starts show*

Jeff: I don’t know what to play next…
Audience member: Gardenhead!
Jeff: “Okay!” *plays “Gardenhead”*

“This is a happy song I wrote. It’s a children’s song. And um…I was living in seattle at the time and my life was pretty much…in the shitter. So I was pretty depressed. I just got off… Well it’s a long story. I’d just gotten off the train from Denver where I moved but then two weeks later moved back again because I was really confused about this girl. She was in Florida at the time. Well, she lived in Seattle but then she left Seattle because I left and she was all bummed out and couldn’t stand to be there, but I came back because I loved her… And in my depression I wrote this song and was happy for about five minutes and then my life went back in the shitter and so did the relationship…. But out of it I got a children’s song, so you know…things happen in funny ways. I’m not making any sense but Jilly wants to hear it so…I hope you like it just the same….” *Plays “Engine”*

(in the middle of “Up and Over We Go”) “this is the part where I didn’t write any lyrics!” *Continues song seamlessly*

3. Audience participation! Someone yells “make out with this young man!” People request songs and he plays them. The crying baby really adds a lot to “Oh Comely.”

And endquote.”

On the downside, of course, this is just a live album, and most of the album tracks aren’t really improved on. Both parts of the bitterly anti-semitic “Two-Headed [Jew] Boy” were already basically acoustic songs, “Where You’ll Find Me Now” is only worse for being a weird amalgam of itself and “A Baby For Pree,” “Jesus Christ” forward slash “Up and Over We Go” (later made into “King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 and 3” worked better as a joyous-sounding rave-up of weirdness, and “Gardenhead” was better as an alt-rocker. But it’s still all great! “Two-Headed Boy Part 2” is still amazingly sad! “Oh Comely” is still epic! The non-album tracks are classic! “Naomi” is still the worst song he ever wrote! I’m feeling generous, so this is a low 9. And yes, it is credited only to old man Man-Gum, but the band was basically just him all along, right? Right. Onward into a darkness littered with deceitful brightness!

9/10

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