The Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park continues to be a magnet for celebrity musicians offering their support and serenading the occupiers with unamplified sets.
Last night, the performances bracketing the twice-daily General Assembly meeting came from dramatically different corners: the strident protest jams of Michael Franti, and the oblique introversion of Jeff Mangum.
Franti, the driving force behind Spearhead and before that the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, stepped up to the stone bench that serves the protesters as a podium wearing pigtails and a tall-crowned cowboy hat. Announcing the General Assembly would start shortly, Franti played several songs, including 2007’s “Yell Fire,” which features the lyric “Three piece suits and bank accounts in Bahamas / Wall street crime will never send you to the slammer.”
A self-described activist for more than two decades, Franti told the audience that showing up for your first protest easy. “But it’s difficult to come the second and third time, waiting to see the newspaper the next morning to announce that Wall Street has changed its ways,” he said. “In order to keep coming back,” Franti told the crowd, “it takes what we call soul.”
On the other end of the evening, after the occupiers had spent much of their energy in a multi-hour meeting, came a hushed, vespertine set by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel. Performing in the round by the steps on the east side of the park, Mangum ran through lovely acoustic renditions of many of his most famous songs, asking the audience what they wanted most to hear. “This is for you,” he repeatedly told them.
Mangum played softly, but somehow the din of the occupation fell away to accommodate him, the drums and sirens subsiding as he slowly spun to face the entire circle gathered around him. He encouraged everyone to sing along, which they did, especially for his last two songs, “King of Carrot Flowers” and “Oh Comely.” Protesters roused themselves especially when Mangum worked round to the lyric “Know all your enemies/ We know who our enemies are.”
Notoriously press-shy, Mangum declined the Voice‘s request for an interview, but by way of compensation offered a hug and a drawing. (Perhaps a portrait? Perhaps.)
Here’s video of Mangum playing “Ghosts.”