Noise Pop Show Review: Magnetic Fields at the Herbst Theater, 3/1/10

by Pouria Yazdi on March 2, 2010

The Magnetic Fields, unadorned.

“You’re REAL handsome.” This is what the toothless bum, who was propositioning me for a 3-way said, as I made my way to the Herbst Theater for The Magnetic Fields. I was running a real tight schedule and unfortunately I had no time for a toothless-three-way, I had a show to get to.

The Magnetic Fields were first introduced to be in the form of 69 Love Songs. I was amazed that I’d never heard of the band and even felt a little embarrassed. Since then the Merritt-led band have been gracing my iPod playlists, adding some unique perspectives on love and sound. They’re the type of band that most of your friends don’t know about and you feel real proud when you’re the one to pop their Fields cherry.

I quite literally got to the Herbst as the band took the stage. The will-call people told me I had excellent timing, I was out of breath and ready to see this show. Tonight Merritt was wielding a ukulele, the only guy in the universe in a popular band who doesn’t look like a hipster when holding one. In fact all the band were decidedly dressed to blend in. It was refreshing, these were people who were there to be comfortable and play music not to set or follow trends. Let’s be real, the Fields have been around the block and then some, who do they need to impress?

The night was filled with excellent music, jokes between sets, vampire references, raunchy jokes, and awkward pauses. Merritt let the crowd know that the longer the pauses between sets took, the more vulgar he was going to get. Someone behind me got excited about this and shouted for them not to play…what? This brings me to the crowd. Overall they were great. The Herbst is a beautiful venue and The Magnetic Fields were framed perfectly on that stage. The crowd was respectful and there was maybe one yelp during a song.

The Herbst lends itself to making you believe you’re at a significant show, and we were. I have no doubt about that. But people were making a point to laugh at every joke in every song, laugh at every joke even between sets even when there wasn’t one, all in way to prove that they “got it.” It became a little bit of an annoyance as I wanted to just listen to the music, not people trying to prove how in-the-know they were.

I digress, there was no percussion the whole night save for an Egg Shaker used on no more than two songs. On a few songs Merritt’s hypnotizing baritone seemed a bit stretched especially during “Xylophone Track.” We are all really fortunate to also have Shirley Simms on the stage to lend her beautiful voice. They played one of my favorite songs, “The Nun’s Litany,” thanks to her presence.

The night was also filled with little bits of neurosis. Merritt visibly does not enjoy people clapping, or may have some sort of inner ear issue when it happens, as he would cover his left ear every time the clapping started. He joked, “It’s no good clapping because everyone you love is going to leave you anyways.” I couldn’t help but feel he was slightly serious. Claudia Gonson would bite her nails randomly. The reason I point these things out is to highlight how unpolished The Magnetic Fields are; they don’t give a shit. That is what is awesome. Their lyrics are amazing, their music is quirky, and their personalities all match. I especially fell in love with Sam Davol as I came to realize how important his cello was in all the songs.

They played 28 songs that night. 28. This included an encore and an intermission. I loved getting a chance to feel like a grown-up and stretch my legs during the show. The entire show was one not be missed, and despite some small annoyances, I really dug everything about it. This show was one of those “when’s the next time I’ll get to see them” sort of things. That’s why I went even though I was sick as a dog.

This was a perfect end to my Noise Pop experience as it was a lot more refined and sophisticated than my previous shows. It even made up for missing out on that homeless-three-way.

Magnetic Fields Set List for 3/1/2010:

Kiss Me Like You Mean It
You Must Be Out of Your Mind
Luckiest Guy in the Lower East Side
We Are Having a Hootenanny
Walk a Lonely Road
When Will You Love Me Again?
All I Want to Know
I Dont Know What to Say
You You You You You
Suddenly There Is a Tidal Wave
I Have the Moon
Hall of Mirrors

Xylophone Track
Long Vermont roads
The Nun’s Litany
I’m Sorry I Love You
Don’t Look Away
The Little Hebrew Girl
The Flowers She Sent and the Flowers She Said She Sent
Better Things
Fear of Trains
Doll’s Tea Party
Always Already Gone
100,000 Fireflies


I Die
From a Sinking Boat

Photos by Kara Murphy. You can see more of her photos on her Flickr page here.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kara March 2, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Great write-up, Pouria. You captured the magnificent evening perfectly.


Pouria March 2, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Thanks! It was a pretty great show.


idrisfynn March 3, 2010 at 2:38 am

As of a couple of years ago Merritt has developed an inner ear condition that causes some sounds to continually amplify louder and louder until it causes him pain. Applause is particularly painful for him. That’s why he sits with his bad ear facing off stage, I think people laughed at the jokes more because many people refrained from hurting him with too much applause. When I saw them ofr the previous album’s tour people where not aware of his condition and the applause got so loud at points he had to leave the stage.

I admire him for touring at all!


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