May 6, 2012

Magnetic Fields - 9:30 Club - April 9, 2012

In full disclosure, the Magnetic Fields are one of my favorite bands of all time.  Stephin Merritt and gang make fun of melancholy, pairing upbeat music with ho-hum, witty lyrics that stand alone as literature.  It was clear on the evening of April 9 that the crowd at 9:30 thought so too, the new fans in particular laughing at every unexpected turn of phrase.  I'd been looking forward to the show for months, a club version replacing the band's usual DC tour stop at Lisner auditorium.

Opener Devotchka's "acoustic" set was a perfect warm-up, although hardly acoustic (accordion, electric bass).  But the sparser arrangement made their music seem different.  It was less whirligig sans sousaphone.

Then headliner took the stage (and in the interim, I'd convinced a Devotchka die-hard to stay, to relish the Magnetic Fields presence in such a small space).

There were a few noticable downsides to the venue almost immediately.  With music and lyrics that stand alone as performance, the band plays seated, a bad companion to the 9:30 Club's built-for-standing stage (think low to zero visibility).  At times, Stephin seemed almost annoyed with the audience (who, in Lisner, knows better to be on its best behavior).  And with the inherent club cacophony, band banter was minimal.

And yet, the Magnetic Fields still managed to dazzle.  Where Stephin stepped back, Shirley shone through, tackling the vocal lead on much of the setlist, and the ukelele.  Claudia still managed to play her stage role as band mom, and the two silent partners (Sam and John) filled out the rich sound, per usual [on a side note, I encourage you to rent the documentary Strange Powers if you really want to "get" the band dynamic].

It's hard to pick set highlights, but the new album held its own against old standbys.  Quick!, with My Husband's Pied-A-Terre, Your Girlfriend's Face, and Andrew in Drag, took place next to 69 Love Song favorites Book of Love, Come Back from San Francisco, and Chicken w/ It's Head Cut Off, as sterling examples of the band's signature sound.

I always get my money's worth going to see this band.  This time was no exception.


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