The Magnetic Fields

Two nights of intimacy and storytelling with the man who plays a hundred instruments

Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields are an extremely strange phenomenon: a group that is wildly talented, successful, and fiercely loved by their fans, despite staying relatively far from the radio-friendly limelight. The songwriting of creative leader Stephin Merritt evokes memories of both Sondheim-esque theatrical compositions and shimmering 80s pop ballads; his lyrics range from whimsically poetic to wickedly tongue-in-cheek; and most of their records are complete conceptual pieces, collected in the space of an entire singular work. Despite his dozens of works ranging on anything from 69 songs about love to country-style tunes about the open road, Merritt has seldom penned works that speak specifically about his own life, which is where his new record 50 Song Memoir comes in. Comprised of one song for each of the years in his own life, starting in 1965 and ending in 2015 (when the recording for the album began), the work takes up five discs and two and a half hours of playing time — making it the perfect piece to play across the span of two nights.

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Welcome back!

Welcome back!

Two years ago, New England musical mastermind Stephin Merritt graced us with two Magnetic Fields shows during the Bay Area’s 18th annual Noise Pop Festival. Spinning Platters was on hand for both performances, and two years later, Merritt and his quintet have returned, with a new opus in tow, to the Fox Theater in Oakland for a new round of orchestral whimsy and symphonic folk-pop playfulness. As the musical tide has turned for the mood and feel of the band’s newest release, Love At The Bottom Of The Sea, so too, apparently, has their attitude to live performances. Rather than occupy the resonant wooden floors and still-somewhat-fresh carpet of the theater with chairs for a quiet, introspective performance, the audience was given free reign in a regular general-admission get-as-close-as-you-like setting. There was a loud and upbeat performer opening the show. The band even responded to whoops, cheers, and catcalls. What a change is here! For even the most stoic Magnetic Fields fan, however, the change of mood was a rather uplifting one, and a general camaraderie was established between both the boisterous and the simply bemused for this acoustic exploration of the band’s charming new work.

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In tribute to fun. playing The Indy this week, I googled the word "fun," and this looked like the best example of the word that I could find.

Well, I have returned from Texas ten pounds heavier, with several new calluses on my feet, and a slew of new bands for you to go see, and several old favorites. So, do yourself a favor and come see a few amazing bands this week.

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Added Bonus: Q & A with Stephin Merritt, Claudia Gonson and the Directors

The film Strange Powers, Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields opens with Stephin Merritt being interviewed by one of the directors.  She asks “What are you reading now?” and the question is greeted with a dark stare and stony silence.  This is how genuine the film is in its portrayal of this iconic songwriter, which is demonstrated in the Q & A after the movie.  Stephin Merritt doesn’t waste words.  Much like his song lyrics, his responses are concise and thought out. The good news is, for the most part, so is the film. [read the whole post]

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From the opening notes of The Magnetic Fields’ new record Realism you feel at home.  There’s the familiar jangly acoustic instruments and Stephin Merritt’s low drone of a voice mixing with Claudia Gonson’s sweeter one.  The lyrics are clever and the longest song comes in at 3:26.  This isn’t the strange distorted Magnetic Fields of their last record; this is more like 69 Love Songs revisited, sweet and expected.  At first it feels too similar to their previous work to be anything interesting enough to keep you coming back.  I struggled with this idea, then realized that I’d been listening to the album almost constantly for a week letting the words and notes seep into every part of my mind, like subtle magic. [read the whole post]

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Pouria mentioning Kidz Bop in his intro is a great excuse for running this classic still from their "Since U Been Gone" video

Kidz Bop is really awful and weird and I swear it was on American Idol last night. Not that I watch that or anything. [read the whole post]

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