So last night the Magnetic Fields FINALLY came to town. I say finally because I bought my ticket three months ago. At the time of purchase I didn't realize that the Cleveland Browns were going to be making the first of three regular season appearances on Monday Night Football otherwise I might have passed on attending this show [from what everyone tells me I missed one heck of a game]. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to the show though I was unsure of what to expect.
I was never all that familiar with Magnetic Fields until a few months back. A friend from LastFM provided me with a crash course in all things Stephen Merritt [the ringleader of MF]. I've still barely scratched the surface of Magnetic Fields and Merritt's numerous side projects. But for the most part I've enjoyed what I've heard.
The members of Magnetic Fields took the stage right at 9pm. Claudia Gonson, seated at a piano, informed the crowd that Stephen would be playing a bouzouki during the performance. This led to a genuinely witty interchange between her and Stephen, the first of many throughout the performance.
For the next 45 minutes Magnetic Fields [Sam Davol, John Woo, Shirley Simms, Gonson, and Merritt] performed songs from the entire Merritt oeuvre on acoustic instruments [cello(Davol), guitar (Woo), piano (Gonson), and yes...bouzouki (Merritt)]: "No One Will Ever Love You"; "California Girls"; "I Wish I Had an Evil Twin"; and "Papa Was a Rodeo" to name a few. The performance was a precise exercise in chamber pop peppered with genuinely funny moments courtesy of Gonson and Merritt. A fifteen minute intermission [which gave me an opportunity to check on how my beloved Browns were doing] was followed by another 45 minute set. "Take Ecstasy With Me", "The Tiny Goat", and "What a Fucking Lovely Day!" were standouts. The encore consisted of "Three Way" and "Grand Canyon".
The audience consisted of mini-cliques of assorted hipster doofi who seemed to eat up every song and humorous comment with ravenous glee. It was very much what I imagine a taping of A Prarie Home Companion would be like.
My main criticism about the show was that it all seemed just a bit too cute and precious. The recital format really didn't lend itself to much interaction between the audience and the performers. I came away from the show content that I had seen the group at its best yet without the urge to run out and listen to all of their records immediately. And for me that's really what a concert should do: turn a casual fan into a super fan and turn the super fans into uber-fans. I suspect that I'm in the minority in thinking that the Magnetic Fields show was sort of ho-hum. I guess I'll just take some advice from the title of one of Merritt's side projects: The Gothic Archies' "Smile! No One Cares How You Feel".