Show Review + Photos + Setlist: The Magnetic Fields at the Pageant, Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Didn't I get robbed in St. Louis?" Stephin Merritt asked halfway through the Magnetic Fields' Pageant show. "I don't remember you getting robbed," manager/keyboardist Claudia Gonson responded. "I only remember that we made xeroxes."

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Photo: Todd Owyoung
Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields last night at the Pageant. See a full slideshow here.
The Magnetic Fields last played the Pageant in 2004. At the time, they had just released i, its first post-69 Love Songs album and its Nonesuch debut. At the time, Merritt seemed to be dealing with a common artistic issue: How do you follow up your grandest statement? 69 Love Songs was a sprawling, epochal triple-CD that deconstructed the love song genre while offering dozens of great ones. It was also Merritt's best seller to date, and made him the internationally acclaimed songwriter he deserved to be.

See a full slideshow from last night's Magnetic Fields show here.

Still, following a project that ambitious is no easy task. For Merritt, the answer came in scoring films, writing theater scores (collected on the Showtunes CD) and reviving his Gothic Archies side project for a collaboration with Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler. This probably revived his creativity, but for awhile, the Magnetic Fields seemed to be on the back burner; 2004's i had plenty of good tunes on it, but seemed a bit flat and bored in retrospect. However, 2008's Distortion and the new Realism are welcome returns to form. Realism, in particular, is certainly the most solid Magnetic Fields album since 69 Love Songs; it includes some of his most quotable lyrics to date, and a lonely, arid feel that brings to mind 1994's The Charm of The Highway Strip. Combined with a forthcoming documentary film, Strange Powers, it appears that the Magnetic Fields are once again Merritt's top priority.

Its sold-out Pageant show featured the core band of Merritt, Gonson, violist Sam Davol and guitarist John Woo, augmented by vocalist/autoharpist Shirley Simms. Merritt claims to hate touring and performing, but he's developed the kind of repartee and self-confidence that can only come with two decades of playing live. He actually seems more relaxed onstage than ever. Sitting on a stool on one side of the stage, sheet music open, he resembled the band's musical director rather than its leader, and it's a role that suits him well. On many tracks Simms and Gonson took lead vocals on many songs, enabling Merritt to just strum his ukulele. He and Gonson cracked inside jokes to each other, as usual; tonight's theme seemed to be vampires.

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Photo: Todd Owyoung
The set list for last night's The Magnetic Fields show at the Pageant. See a full slideshow here.
The Magnetic Fields have often played marathon shows in the past; its 1990s New York club gigs often went on for two hours without a break. For this show, however, it divided the night into two thirteen-song sets with a twenty-minute intermission. This allowed time for lots of deep cuts, including tracks from every Magnetic Fields album (including three from The Charm of The Highway Strip, perhaps my personal favorite), both 6ths albums ("Looking for Love in The Hall of Mirrors" from Wasps' Nests and "You You You You You" from Hyacinths and Thistles), and a couple of solo songs.

However, the emphasis on slower and sadder songs was ultimately to the band's detriment. Because Merritt suffers from hyperacusis, an inner ear condition that renders certain sonic frequencies painful, the live arrangements were much quieter and sparser than the recorded versions. (You could actually see him cover his left ear in pain when the audience applauded.) Sometimes this resulted in a fresh approach to a familiar favorite. "100,000 Fireflies" took on a shuffle beat, while "You Must Be Out of Your Mind" benefited from Simms' and Gonson's countryish harmony vocals. But halfway through the second set, it was easy for one's attention span to begin dragging.



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10 comments
Anonymous
Anonymous

I would like to confirm that she didn't look like a hipster at all to me. If we are throwing people into categories, she looked like a wealthy hippy (in grad school, as she told us 4 times).

And yes, the rest of the crowd was incredibly respectful. I've never seen anything like it! The fact that her drunkness stood out so much at a concert in a venue with alcohol says more about the audience than it does about her. She probably didn't know what she was walking into when she was "pre-gaming".

Kevin
Kevin

Matt,

Not everyone that hangs out on South Grand is a "hipster". This pig though was hipster know it all trash and was a distraction for many of us that were seated by her.

The show was reserved seating and sold out so there wasn't much else to do but endure "it" being part of the show as well.

Kevin

mike
mike

I didn't mention the shout-out girl. Perhaps I was relieved that there was only one of her. The rest of the crowd was remarkably respectful.

I thought this show put the 2004 one to shame, even though the second half dragged a bit.

Matt Harnish
Matt Harnish

Thanks Kevin! It'd been so long since I'd read an un-provoked attack on the mythical "South Grand Hipster", that I thought maybe the area was losing it's coolness. Thank God for Kevin! Way to go! I feel cool again!

Kevin
Kevin

Great review, the show did start to lull due to everything sort of being the same tempo.

There was nothing funny about that drunken wretch that shouted and burped, the woman was textbook south grand, 'hipper than thou' trash.

I felt sorry for anyone that had to put up sitting so close to such a pig (description of her behavior only).

Stephanie
Stephanie

I've only recently discovered their music, and the first commenter was absolutely right... it was pretty hard for me to understand what was going on and they did seem a little... inconvenienced to be playing a live show. I ended up falling asleep during parts of it.

I was sitting right behind that drunk girl. She was pretty annoying the whole time, but the highlight of the night was when she burped and everyone laughed. Oh, and the vampire jokes.

brad
brad

Just recently started listening to these guys. Definitely not what I expected, but I thought the band's persona went along with the music.

From what I gather - and this is me as a new fan, their lyrics use a ton of dry humor, which leads to that sort-of expressionless body language anyways.

Agreed the "shout-outs" from the crowd were annoying, after all this isn't an 80's cover band, but I thought the performance was refreshingly different.

travis
travis

Well, I thought it was absolute magic. I'm nothing but moved.

Happy
Happy

Probably the weirdest show I have seen in years ( and I loved the 2004 show). It was almost like a non-show, like they didn't want to be performing or all had the flu. If I didn't already know the music, I wouldn't have been able to piece much of it together. Very very disappointing. As was the drunk girl who clapped and screamed the whole time on the back right side, or her sidekick male screamer towards the end. Security should have taken both of them out!Hugely disappointing overall.

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