Take me to the airport, I need to be extremely far away

You can usually learn a lot about a songwriter’s personality through their songs…Steve Poltz is a goofy sort of guy, but has a very tender side, and his songs reflect that…Chris Eaton of Rock Plaza Central is a bit of a character, but is a really good storyteller, and his bizarre lyrics adhere to his own fantastical canon…Stephin Merritt is an exception in more ways than one…

Leader of many projects, Merritt is most notably the creative director for The Magnetic FieldsMerritt is the antithesis of the ‘rock star’ persona, often acting either very quiet or very rude in situations where ‘traditional’ performers would be animated and outgoing…however, you’d never know any of this by listening to The Magnetic Fields‘ songs…sure, a lot of their ‘love’ songs are dark and a little twisted, but even a sourpuss like Merritt has a sense of humor…

Joining Merritt onstage on a rainy night in Philadelphia a few weeks ago was vocalist Shirley Simms, pianist Claudia Gonson, guitarist John Woo and cellist Sam Davol…The Merriam Theater was a fine setting for the band’s recital-like stage show, which consisted of light chatter (mostly from the bubbly Gonson) in between a fine selection of songs from Merritt‘s various projects…most of the two sets were made up of tunes from The Magnetic Fields‘ new album, Distortion, but unlike the record, the live performances of these songs were not enveloped in sheets of squealing feedback…this might be an act of mercy by the band on the ears of the audience, or at least on the ears of Merritt himself (he suffers from Hyperacusis, in which normal sounds reverberate within the ear until the sound becomes unbearable)…it was interesting to hear “Too Drunk To Dream”, “California Girls” and “Three-Way” done totally acoustic, and it almost makes me wish that the re-record the album sans-distortion…I mean, if they can market Verve: Un-Mixed, why not?…

Along with a few tunes from Merritt‘s “bubblegum-goth” project The Gothic Archies, the band performed a good number of the 69 Love Songs, and a few other earlier tunes…all of this (except for the encore) was done with a few surrogate instruments taking the place of those the band had been separated from in transit…despite a few monitor-related technical difficulties (and a trigger-happy sound guy who cranked up “Rock’n Me” just as the last note of the first set was played), the show was an elegant affair, and I await the band’s return…

Unfortunately, the Merriam has a very strict ‘No Photography’ policy, so the only picture I could get was the Distortion cover-emulating poster that was in a lightbox outside…

Take ecstasy with me

Though there aren’t any more pictures of The Magnetic Fields, you can check out pictures from plenty of other great concerts (like Nick Cave, Los Straitjackets and Sonic Youth) here

Coming soon, The Decemberists @ Electric Factory and Sondre Lerche @ World Cafe Live…

E.

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~ by E. on November 4, 2008.

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