The Magnetic Fields turn it up with live performance

A review of The Magnetic Fields at the Wilbur Theatre on February 11, 2010

, Staff Writer

<p>There’s something fundamentally different about Stephin Merritt’s music when  performed live. Songs that are deeply personal and introspective in the studio  become more lighthearted, and a sparser instrumentation brings more focus to his  lyrics. A Magnetic Fields show is entirely acoustic, which dramatically changes  the character of pieces from <em>69 Love Songs</em> or, as is to be expected, <em>Distortion</em>.  The band’s newest release, <em>Realism</em>, specifically does away with the hazy guitar  fuzz, so the transition is less drastic. That said, when the quintet returned to  Boston this past Thursday, every song was impeccably performed, and through two  sets they regaled the audience with wonderful pieces that spanned their fairly  extensive catalogue.</p>
<p>”Kiss Me Like You Mean It” got things started, a familiar tune to most of the  audience. From there, they launched into the opening track of <em>Realism</em>, “You Must  Be Out Of Your Mind.” The song has that Magnetic Fields flavor that’s become  well-known over the years, and a good example of how the songs are perceived  differently between the studio and the stage. A lyric like “I want you running  back to me, down on your knees, yeah / Like an appendectomy, sans anesthesia” is  sharp and almost spiteful on the album, but got everybody laughing. “The  Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side” was immediately met with smiles from  everyone, and though the audience was good and didn’t sing along, it was clear  that the temptation to do so was acute.</p>
<p>The highlight of the first set&nbsp;was “Shipwrecked,” which was originally  written by Merritt for use in the musical companion to A Series of Unfortunate  Events. It starts off sweetly enough: “I can’t think of a single thing I’d  rather do / Than be cast away on an island with you,” and unsuspecting couples  in the audience started to get a little affectionate. Around the middle of the  song, though, things turn, and it turns out the song’s main character has  “decapitated the crew” in order to fulfill this wish. It was a bit satisfying to  watch hands embarrassingly retract from knees, I have to admit.</p>
<p>The second set started off with “Xylophone Track,” which let Merritt really  show off his vocal chops. It’s a simple blues, and his voice dropped into a  fiendishly deep baritone. The band took the song at a slow, deliberate pace,  letting Merritt really drop into those low registers and rumble. “You You You  You You,” another side project song, was Gonson’s finest performance of the  night. The lyrics are gushy and cute, and for a few minutes things turned into  one big smiley lovefest. “The Little Hebrew Girl” was well-received, too. It’s a  musical take on the Hans Christian Andersen story, and had, as you might expect,  a heavy touch of Yiddish traditional music in it. The show closed with “100,000  Fireflies,” and an encore of “I Die” and “From A Sinking Boat,” which Merritt  asserted was a fitting ending to the evening.</p>
<p>The Magnetic Fields are definitely a band to see live. Where some bands  simply do straight versions of what you hear on the disc, the quintet bring  fairly different interpretations to the table. The newer material was thoroughly  enjoyed by those in attendance, and it’s always a pleasure to hear them perform  crowd favorites. Two sets was ample time to sample Merritt’s vast catalogue of  music, and, if anything, went by faster than we would have liked.</p>
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