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Jeff Magnum returns after years away from the spotlight

Fifteen years ago, Neutral Milk Hotel released one of the most influential and acclaimed albums in indie rock. The band broke up soon afterward, and their leader disappeared. But with a recent series of concert dates, Jeff Mangum seems to be getting his “airplane” flying again.
Modified: January 17, 2013 at 5:22 pm •  Published: January 18, 2013
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Much of “Aeroplane,” which Mangum once said was inspired by Anne Frank's “Diary of a Young Girl,” is given a musically timeless execution — some of the instrumentation has almost no traditional rock 'n' roll components (“Fool” is a good example), but then modernity can sweep in just as quickly on tracks such as “Holland 1945.” The influence of “Aeroplane” is most keenly felt in the sea shanties and pre-rock orchestration of early Decemberists albums. It's hard to imagine albums such as “Her Majesty” or “Castaways and Cutouts” without “Aeroplane” providing the maps and charts those musical journeys.

The critical estimation of “Aeroplane” only increased during Mangum's absence, but over a decade after its release, Mangum started working his way back into performing. In 2009, he took part in a benefit concert for New Zealand-born indie musician Chris Knox, then a 10-song set for an invited audience in Brooklyn, N.Y. the following year. Two full sets in Toronto came in August 2011, then an appearance for Occupy Wall Street protesters two months later. By the time he announced a set at Coachella in 2012, it was clear that Mangum sightings were not the stuff of myths anymore.

Now, as part of a January-February 2013 solo acoustic tour, Mangum will appear Jan. 19 at ACM@UCO Performance Lab. According to his website, walkingwallofwords.com, Mangum is playing sets in places like Oklahoma City with an eye toward making them unique experiences — he does not plan to play these towns again “in the foreseeable future.”

At a time when people are so used to having everything at their disposal, any time they want, a Jeff Mangum concert in Oklahoma City, one that will only happen once, is worth every effort to see. Welcome him back, and wish him safe travels going forward.