Monday, October 27, 2008

Magnetic Fields Redux in W-A-S-H-I-N-G-T-O-N, Baby, D.C.

Scrambling out of WKCR's studios yesterday and nearly being foiled by weekend construction on the B/D line -- such that getting to the Grand Street stop proved so much of a challenge that I went above ground and hailed a cab -- I made it down to our nation's capital on a Chinatown bus and walked past the White House to get to George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, where I met up with my dear comrade Ben for our second dose of Stephin Merritt and company this year (the first is described here, where I apparently use the same lyrical allusion as in the title of this post).

As compared to the Town Hall show in February, the sound was much improved, and both the super-droll banter and the precision playing of the band were perfectly audible. In fact, it was so audible that pianist Claudia Gonson's mistakes were rather noticeable -- a few times, she fell out of the pocket, usually rushing the tempo a bit. (The drawback to being a band that specializes in precision miniatures is that those moments become fairly obvious.) Some of John Woo's guitar licks also seemed a hair off, as well. (I have nothing but good things to say about Sam Davol's sweet cello playing.) But all-in-all, there was no disappointment: this was a good show.

The opening act was a Japanese guitarist and singer whose name I didn't catch. Joined by a drummer, an accordianist/glockenspieler/percussionist and a synthesizerist/trumpeter/oboist/lap-steeler/percussionist, the leader played these hauntingly familiar melodies, although I could never precisely place any one of them -- was that a Dylan song being sung in Japanese? is that some 80's hit? He also really let his fingers fly on a couple of tunes, moving up and down the neck of the guitar with great agility. The last tune of the set sounded like it could have been straight out of the John Fahey songbook. It was a solid but not earth-shattering opening set.

Claudia began the Magnetic Fields' portion of the show by describing the performance in Philadelphia the night before in which they played on borrowed instruments -- "my 18-year-old cousin's guitar" and a cello from a friend of the cousin that came complete with a cobweb on the bride, which allegedly remained in place over the course of the show. Having arrived in Washington still without the instruments, Claudia announced her sense of accomplishment at having told the airline that she would "sue their ass" if the instruments didn't show up. And they did. At this point, Stephin Merritt said, "No more anecdote." But there was more anecdote for sure with varying levels of discomfort attached.

The setlist looked like this:

  • "When I'm Out of Town"

  • "No One Will Ever Love You"

  • Stephin tells a story about going to see Jefferson Airplane -- someone in the crowd yells out "Starship!"; Merritt requests "Security." -- and Grace Slick saying, 'They're killing children over there!' referring presumably to Vietnam, except that wee Stephin Merritt thought that she referred to stage left and became somewhat intimidated; therefore, he wrote a song about hacking California girls to death: "California Girls"; there was some debate at the end of the song about how many times Claudia was supposed to repeat, "I hate California girls" -- four or five -- yes, this band argues about these things on stage

  • Stephin says, 'This song is called "Walking My Gargoyle," and Claudia interjects, 'And I'm going to give you a long introduction to it,' with the aim of selling some old CDs

  • "The Nun's Litany"

  • "All My Little Worlds"

  • "Old Fools"

  • "I Don't Believe You" - with its brilliant opening line: 'So you quote love unquote me'; played at way too quick a tempo

  • "Dreams Anymore"

  • "This Little Ukelele" - 'But I'm playing a bouzouki -- everyone knows that,' says Stephin

  • Song with lyrics 'You never even called to tell me that you don't love me anymore'

  • "Xavier Says"

  • "Zombie Boys"

  • "Papa Was a Rodeo" - good choice to end the first set

  • --Set Break--

  • The second set opened with Stephin suggesting, 'Why don't you put away all of your electronic devices, and we'll play a show?' Oh boy...

  • "Lonely Highway"

  • "Take Ecstasy with Me"

  • "Courtesans"

  • "Crows"

  • "The Tiny Goat"

  • "Too Drunk to Dream"

  • Stephin asks, 'Could you turn off your electronic devices now? That way we can avoid any performer-audience violence.' Then he sings "The Book of Love"

  • "Give Me Back My Dreams"

  • "Drive On, Driver"

  • Song from The Orphan of Zhao, Merritt's 2003 attempt at Chinese opera, in which the character walks around with a child's head on a pole singing, 'What a f*cking beautiful day!'

  • "Yeah! Oh, Yeah!" - with Claudia dancing all around the stage

  • "It's Only Time"

  • ENCORE: The band left the stage, and the house lights came all of the way up, then they went down. Then Claudia came out and said that she would try to sing a verse of "Washington, D.C." Then she asked that John come out to help her. But he didn't come. Then she tried to sing a verse but mostly did not know the lyrics. Then the rest of the band came out and played "Grand Canyon" with its refrain 'And you used to love me a lot...'

No comments: