Jeff Mangum's Live at Jittery Joe's sees the Neutral Milk Hotel mastermind performing alone on an Athens, GA, stage, his voice accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and a mostly indifferent live audience. Recorded between the release of On Avery Island and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the album features Mangum's "greatest hits" from the debut album, blueprints for the sophomore album, and a touching, fragile cover of Phil Spector's "I Love How You Love Me." For the most part, Mangum's voice is strikingly captured, sounding remarkably similar to its sonic counterpart on Neutral Milk Hotel's studio albums. Stripped of the bombastic, genius fuzz of the Neutral Milk Hotel albums, Mangum sounds eerily similar to the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle here. Like Darnielle, Mangum attacks his guitar with wrenching abandon and affects a vocal delivery of significant emotion, his voice frequently cracking from strain. Though the album is fascinating listening for fans of Neutral Milk Hotel and somewhat revelatory in the emotional recreation of Mangum's best songs, the performance and its hiss-encumbered recording suffer from a certain lack of focus. Mangum performs with no set list, instead allowing a small audience of friends to choose the songs, making for frequent extended segments of silence and tedious asides. It's also evident that a large portion of the audience is simply chatting away, which adds to the live flavor, but detracts from the performance. The Quicktime video data track of the concert is somewhat haunting, especially when it focuses on a small child sitting on the stage. Strangely, Magnum is almost entirely obscured by shadows for the duration of the performance. Live at Jittery Joe's is a compelling, interesting, and somewhat frustrating glimpse into the mind and art of one of indie rock's greatest artists.
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AllMusic Review by Tim DiGravina