Last night in front of a near capacity crowd, the quirky and often experimental Magnetic Fields revealed themselves to be something far more surprising: traditionally-trained musicians. Accompanied by a cello, acoustic guitar, piano, and two female-vocalists, Stephen Merritt, the band’s creative core, performed intimate renditions of songs spanning his career.
The sparse tunes centered around a colorful back-and-forth dialogue between pianist Claudia Gonson, who also served as the band’s director and audience liaison, and Merritt, who spent the evening interrupting Gonson with deadpan quips. Before playing “California Girls,” a lyrical disparaging the tan and blonde, Gonson and Merritt argued for several minutes over whether or not the Olsen twins qualified as their target audience. Merritt defended the twins, reasoning that they now live in New York.
The highlight of the evening was Gonson and Merritt’s call and response singing of the humorous “Yeah, Oh Yeah,” which perfectly manifested the two’s on stage bantering: “What a dark and dreary life/ Are you reaching for a knife?/ Could you really kill your wife?/ Yeah! Oh, yeah!”
Leaving behind his electric guitars, amps, synthesizers, and drum machines, the short, pudgy and bald Merritt spent most of the evening crooning in his quietly deep resonance and strumming his bouzouki guitar. Replacing distortion with the humming of a cello and affected melodies with an efficiently plucked acoustic, Merritt’s lyrical genius pushes even more to the forefront.