Jeff Mangum is the frontman of the acid-weird indie-rock group known as Neutral Milk Hotel. "Live at Jittery Joe's," a recording made at a Georgia coffeehouse between Neutral Milk Hotel's two albums, is a casual, offbeat little live recording. It's not astounding, but it's pleasant. In it, Mangum takes requests and plays various songs from both albums -- a faster version of "A Baby For Pree," the enjoyably weird "Engine," a cover of Phil Spector's "I Love How You Love Me," and versions of ""Where You'll Find Me Now" and "Two-Headed Boy Part 2" that alter the original lyrics ("In my dreams you're alive/And you're crying..."). A few of Mangum's songs stumble: "I Will Bury You in Time" is weak by comparison, and songs like "Gardenhead" suffer musically from a lack of fuzz guitar. Mangum tends to create strange, tangled, vivid songs, and they don't lose their punch because he's playing acoustic music in a coffeehouse. "Live" feels very casual and relaxed, as if he's really enjoying what he's doing. "Live"'s sound quality suffers somewhat, since it is basically a bootleg. It could use some tighter editing and some cleaning up. (Will no one take the baby out of the coffeehouse?) It's also nice to hear some alternate versions of already existing songs ("Baby For Pree"), as well as unreleased material ("Engine"). Not to mention some spur-of-the-moment changes -- mashing together a song about Jesus to a Neutral Milk Hotel song, for example. It's weird, but it works. But the brilliant guy behind Neutral Milk Hotel is in fine form here. Mangum's flawed voice is solidly poignant, very strong and emotional. His acoustic guitar playing doesn't have the texture of his band's electronic/fuzz sound, so expect something more folkie than indie. His guitar playing is strong and pleasantly quirky. Despite subpar sound quality and some songs that don't work, Jeff Mangum's "Live At Jittery Joe's" is intimately odd. A curiosity for fans of Neutral Milk Hotel.
In that case this album is pretty much a must have. With alternative versions (if only slightly) of Two-Headed Boy Parts 1 & 2, Baby For Pree, Gardenhead, Oh Comely and more it will certainly be an interesting trip for Neutral fans. I will agree with the other reviewer that the sound quality is not quite perfect, but apart from that I really can't see why this album doesn't have the same notoriety as Avery Island or Aeroplane. It fits perfectly between the two, and shows Mangum's evolution from Avery to Aeroplane incredibly well - I for one actually prefer most of the songs on this album to their original (especially Gardenhead - it works so much better for me on acoustic) even if you have to wait for a couple of minutes at the end of Engine for Jeff to move on.
A warning on the Phil Spector cover though - it's the ONE track on this album which I don't like and feel the need to skip. Give it a try, by all means, but for me it's the song which Jeff (although I credit him for trying) can't quite pull off. The singing's out of key and makes me cringe a little...
Other than that though I'd say it's a pretty solid album. Liked Neutral Milk Hotel? Then you won't regret buying a copy of Jittery Joe's.