In their short lifetime as a band, Neutral Milk Hotel could have been described as late bloomers. It took them almost a decade to become overnight successes, and even then, the love was delayed. In 1998, NMH released their masterpiece (some critics would call it the best album of the decade), In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It’s a concept album, more or less, based on the life of Anne Frank. A commercial flop at first, the record eventually went on to better-than-decent sales after the rock press and everyone else caught on. But it was kind of too late. Just as on the last track of the album, Jeff Mangum, the chief architect of NMH, simply walked off with no explanation. The band was finished. The next year, he had a nervous breakdown.
Mangum’s an interesting guy. A reviewer once likened him to the J.D. Salinger of rock after his disappearance from music at such an inopportune time. But Mangum’s feel for the eclectic surely cast a shadow over the indie ferment that would produce acts like Arcade Fire, what with Mangum’s sweet tooth for the use of fuzzy guitars and musical saws and bagpipes. Surely a listener can hear NMH in bands like the Decemberists, for example.
Said to have burned some time recouping in a monastery and later making field recordings abroad, Mangum began to gig in public in small doses, like a man learning to walk all over again. There was a reference to the indie-rock recluse on the sitcom Parks and Recreation. He made a Coachella appearance last year. And after that came word of one final acoustic tour this year with proceeds to benefit Children of the Blue Sky’s Himalayan street orphans. It was supposed to end last month, but the tour was extended to include rare appearances in parts of the Southwest and on the West Coast. Rare — did I say rare?
Tall Firs also perform.
Jeff Mangum: Spreckels Theatre, Tuesday, March 26, 8 p.m., all ages. 619-234-8397. $30.