Sometimes recalling what I experienced last month feels like recollecting a dream. But I remember Jeff Mangum. I remember April 2, at the Lensic in Santa Fe. I remember my car filled with my girlfriend Mauro and a few other friends. I remember resenting that the show was in Santa Fe and then realizing that that just allowed us to make a pilgrimage—to make the show extra-special. I remember arriving in the City Different and seeing only music-minded people from Albuquerque wherever we went. I remember standing outside the Lensic and seeing a poster of Jeff Mangum, the reclusive former singer/songwriter for Neutral Milk Hotel and someone I thought I might never get to see. I remember feeling giddy.
I remember that in Santa Fe, shows start on time. That was weird. I remember Tall Firs, a texture-minded indie-folk duo, playing only their most downbeat songs and none of my favorites. And I do remember Jeff Mangum—bearded, long-haired, gray, too old for his age, so apparently vulnerable, and yet with such a forceful voice—sitting in the center of the Lensic’s beautiful stage, playing one acoustic guitar after another, as the crowd sang along with his every frenzied word. I remember realizing I must have unresolved issues with Neutral Milk Hotel, because there was a lump in my throat all evening long.
I remember how naturally Jeff Mangum made amends for his long absence, and I remember later, April 13, at Elliott’s Bar. That’s when Mauro and I attended Roc the Mic 14, an all-female hip-hop competition. It was a good show with a wide range of performances, from the ultra-personal R&B-rap of Gigglez to the machine-gun aggression of Doer. What stood out the most to me, though, was when the backing tracks for Asliani—who sings life-positive songs from the heart of a new age—cut out and she didn’t miss a single beat, rapping freestyle over nothing, then over a volunteer beat-boxer and then over a generic beat. She even managed to openly praise her competitors in the process, changing the entire feeling of the event for the better.
It was honestly one of the most rock-and-roll moments I’ve ever seen, and I love that [Lady Uranium] says it was inspired by a hip-hop one—Asliani’s performance the night before.
The next night, April 14, at the Iron Haus, I saw another impressive salvaging, when Mauro, playing as witch-house diva Lady Uranium, experienced technical difficulties during the middle of “Dustland,” losing use of her keyboard, and she just kept right on going, howling without a microphone, incanting over a stomped beat from an involved crowd, improvising ululations with her hand moving rapidly over her mouth. It was honestly one of the most rock-and-roll moments I’ve ever seen, and I love that she says it was inspired by a hip-hop one—Asliani’s performance the night before.
I’m genuinely impressed by moments like these—they’re probably why I love live music so much. Anything can happen, and it does. But I’m also impressed by Albuquerque. I remember looking around during Jeff Mangum’s final song—as the crowd pressed against that Santa Fe stage—and recognizing almost everyone: all Albuquerque locals, all trained by house shows to dive into the action. And I remember how quickly the room began to stamp at Lady Uranium’s technically troubled show. Everyone recognized that something was wrong, and everyone felt invested in fixing it. It's not a performance when something like that happens. It's a community.