BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER In 1998, Neutral Milk Hotel released an album of hallucinatory folk-rock called In The Aeroplane Over The Sea that is, it can be said without fear of exaggeration, nothing short of a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, it is lightning caught in a bottle, one of those rare perfect albums that come along maybe once a decade.
Or once a lifetime.
In 1999, Jeff Mangum — Neutral Milk’s singer, songwriter and primary guitarist — disappeared from public life without explanation, declining all entreaties to perform or discuss the album or record a follow-up. Over the course of his decade-long Salinger-like hermitage, succeeding generations have discovered and come to revere the album, and as such it has become something like The Catcher In The Rye of indie-rock.
Two years ago he emerged from seclusion and started performing again, refusing to offer any explanation for his mysterious disappearance or sudden return. No matter. The ambiguity only seems to heighten the intrigue of his legend. Thursday night’s performance at the Irvine Auditorium, at Penn, sold out in 35 seconds.
Taking the stage dressed in a white cranberry-checked cowboy shirt and a droopy gray Mao cap, the 41-year-old Louisiana-born Mangum waved hello, took a seat, strapped on an acoustic guitar and tore into the slashing, Who-like opening chords of “Two-Headed Boy,” blaring the agony and ecstasy of the lyric with his trademark, heart-tugging yelp like it was 1998 all over again. MORE