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Jeff Mangum / The Music Tapes, Lincoln Theatre, January 26 & 27

January 30, 2012

Per the usual with Jeff at this point, there was no recording of video or audio at these show. Not even pictures. There’s a handful of stuff floating around the Internet’s mighty tubes, but if you’re interested, I’m sure you can find them.

The show itself was tight. Jeff played mostly the same set each night (with a slightly varied order), both of which were nearly identical to the sets he played when I saw him in Baltimore a few months ago. The only real difference was the inclusion of “Little Birds” in both sets and the exclusion of any covers this time around. His voice sounded as piercing as ever, and the inclusion of Julian’s saw on “Engine” and “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” took those songs to even greater depths. They also segued perfectly from Jeff’s solo performance of “Oh Comely” into a full band (Jeff on guitar and the three Music Tapes [which now includes Spinto Band bassist Thomas Hughes, whom I remember fondly from when the Spinto Band used to play State College seemingly every other week] on trumpet, accordion and bass drum) performance of “The Fool.” A double encore punctuated both nights.

The Music Tapes opened both nights and seem to be on top of their game. The acoustics at the Lincoln Theatre are spectacular, and this was as good as I’ve heard them sound. I’ve seen them now several times in a variety of different settings (though this was the first time I saw them play “Television Tells Us,” which I was happy about), but this one stood out sonically.

But while the Lincoln Theatre is an acoustically stellar and visually stunning building, the setting seemed to detract from both performers. The Music Tapes, despite the on-stage clutter they always bring with them, seemed not big enough for the stage. I suspect this is because I’m used to seeing them in smaller clubs and, in a couple cases, living rooms. I’ve watched them perform so close to me that I could touch them. This was a much different, much more detached experience. The band itself seemed not even a little intimidated and performed no differently than it would otherwise–the same surrealist song introductions, the same quirky instrumentation, the same goofy jokes that don’t quite land–but a gigantic old theater seemed not to be the right milieu.

And while Jeff received a warm reception when he took the stage, the crowd still seemed relatively cool throughout the night. When he played in Baltimore, he had people singing and clapping and stomping along to his songs and shouting questions to him anytime he stopped playing. As for this weekend, I don’t know if it was because it was a seated venue, because it was a slightly older crowd, or just because it was DC, but the audience was just a bit too reverent and docile. They applauded and cheered at all the appropriate times and gave a standing ovation that brought out that second (possibly unplanned) encore on both nights, but even when Jeff would urge the crowd to sing along, he was met with relative silence.

While I’m sure a lot of people were relishing the chance to see Jeff perform for the first time in such a long time (which was likely, for a lot of the crowd, their first chance to see him ever), you can listen to him sing from your house. He hasn’t made a lot of records, but he’s made some, and he didn’t sing anything that isn’t on any of them. You go to a show for a more visceral connection with the artist, and what better way to make that bond than by singing along? Besides, Jeff has the sort of voice that can easily rise above any group chat. For how much we’ve missed him, we gave him quite the chilly reception.

The good news is: it’s not going to take him another 13 years for him to come back. I’ve got high hopes for his next visit.

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