Monday, March 3, 2008

the magnetic fields @ the henry fonda

Review by guest hipster: EMJ

After an agonizing three months of waiting between the frantic ticket-buying and the actual show, I was more than ready to take in The Magnetic Fields at the Henry Fonda. More than ready would be an understatement, actually- I'll admit having at least two pathetic wish-fulfillment dreams in which Stephin Merritt and I are BFFs, but unless I manage to open a rare ukulele shop next door to his house, as a friend suggested, it's not looking to be likely.

The astonishing and critically acclaimed musical force that is Stephin Merritt returned to Los Angeles on Monday night to support the band's latest release, the aptly named Distortion, alongside ridiculously cute pianist and singer Claudia Gonson, having-an-off-night guitarist John Woo and flawless cellist Sam Davol. Not a fan of traditional opening bands, Merritt and his bandmates opted to invite the Interstellar Radio company to warm the audience up. A self-described experiment in narrative sound, the three-piece Interstellar Radio Company used Foley art, piano and one dedicated narrator (producing an enthusiastic shower of spittle) to bring the sounds of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" to auditory life.

When the band walked on stage, Merritt looking as dour and unhappy as ever, the excitement in the room was palpable. Often described as "curmudgeonly," Merritt exemplifies the artist who has grown so unbelievably good at what he does that he makes no attempt to conceal disdain or displeasure, even when directed at fans who return again and again to worship his art. A shouted song request was answered with a simple "Shut up," a ringing cell phone halted a song entirely, and along with open bashings of Los Angeles and California, you'd think that listeners would be forever turned off. Right? No matter how much we may fear angering him somehow, fans of The Magnetic Fields share a love and devotion that reflects the fantastic quality of Merritt's work, even if it means that our idol might throw a water bottle at our heads.

The evening was a delightful mix of new and old material that spanned the band's extensive discography and included songs from movie soundtracks, The Gothic Archies, The 6ths, and the Future Bible Heroes, Merritt's other musical vehicles. Stephin set an unhurried pace for each song with a slow strum on his bouzouki, Claudia provided awkward but endearing between-song commentary, and sometimes-singer Shirley Simms supplied her strange and charming vocals. Always wonderful A Series of Unfortunate Events author Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, added both an accordion and hilarity into the mix. Fan favorites such as "Take Ecstasy with Me" and "Epigraph for My Heart" hypnotized the crowd into a reverent silence, but no one could help laughing at every witty turn of phrase that peppered songs like "The Nun's Litany" and "Too Drunk to Dream."

In the end, it was a surreal night that can only described, unfortunately for cliché-haters, as magical. Despite every bungled guitar chord, every awkward unfinished sentence, and Stephin’s obvious desire to be elsewhere, there is no denying that the band's every take on classic songwriting is just darn special.

Friends: expect my happy stupor to last for weeks. Now is probably a good time to borrow money from me.

mp3: "Yeah! Oh, Yeah! (Magnetic Fields Cover)" by St. Vincent and John Vanderslice


Anonymous said...

Yeah I went too, it was great! I heard tons of songs I've never heard of from them, as well as a few favorites. Oh yeah just something I want to point out, I think it's actually "Epitaph for My Heart" instead of epigraph.

Incredible performance!

Robot Cartoons said...


This describes my musical taste so well.