Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thoughts on Magnetic Fields show

Playing right now: Hospitality's self-titled album. It was in the CD tray right after Charles Gayle, which makes for quite a transition of sound and sound quality.

Here it is, Thanksgiving morning. It's such a novelty to be drinking coffee and sitting in pj's at 8:48 in the morning and not having to be anywhere - not work, not church, not dropping the kid off at school. And not having any frantic deadlines hanging over my head. I filed a story on AZITA with Blurt earlier this week, which accounts for my lack of activity here. As soon as that's posted, a link will be provided here.

Last week's Magnetic Fields show was a really enjoyable experience, aside from the overwhelming heat of the Carnegie Lecture Hall, which only exacerbated my already bad tendency to get droopy eyelids. Jennie and I sat behind my sister and her wife, who had just gotten into town a few hours earlier. Seeing her added to the excitement. We just got to talk a little bit before the show started.

The band's merch gal Emma Straub opened the show doing a reading. First she read an essay about going to see former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre which was really well constructed. It was not heavily ironic, it wasn't fawning or yearning about the early days, it had a really good perspective on the whole scene - which consisted of him doing standards that a lot of his no longer young fans understood. She also read an excerpt from her book Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures which was also really good.

In what seems like true Magnetic Fields form, they were introduced a few minutes before they made their way to the stage. It seems like Stephin Merritt doesn't mind making people wait, and wouldn't see what the problem with that was. But then out they came, announcing themselves as "The Carnegie Five." Merritt played a few different keyboards - harmonium (pump organ/accordion looking thing), melodica/hooter. Along with him were the sweet yang to his grumbly yin Claudia Gonson (piano), Shirley Simms (ukulele), John Woo (guitar) and Sam David (cello).

For an instrumentation that seems really spare on paper, they got an incredibly rich sound. Woo used several effects on his guitar, giving it a really psychedelic sound, which helped with that. But the use of the uke and the way it blended with the keyboards were really exquisite. Gonson and Simms sang a lot of the songs. When Merritt sang he sounded really strong. A lot of people harp on his low, toneless voice, but I'm here to tell you that he really does have a strong voice that has a lot of power to it. With a little more training, he could be a bit operatic. No lie.

And the hits kept coming. I counted 25 songs in the proper set. (We had to leave just before the encore so they could've topped 30 by the end. If that's the case, we got our money's worth, at about a buck a song.)

I feel rather lucky, as I mentioned here previously, that when I interviewed him for City Paper, I had a good chat with Mr. Merritt and he seemed rather friendly and nice. So I took his onstage grumblings to not be that bothersome. It seemed more like a way of showing how friendly Gonson is compared to his shortness. She repeatedly tried to help members of the sold-out crown find seats so they wouldn't have to stand in the back aisles. This didn't take too long between songs but long enough for Merritt to ask if the lights could be turned down so that Gonson couldn't see out there anymore. Way to go, Grumpy McGrumpsalot.

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