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With Special Guest DeVotchKa
Friday was an extra special night at The Magnetic Fields show in Boston. It was Parent’s Night for the 5 best friends. Every song about depression, vengeful urges, transgender infatuations, and failed love was performed with the band’s relatives live and in-person. Even with this potentially awkward situation, The Magnetic Fields were able to deliver the type of high-caliber performance that keeps their devoted fan’s buying tickets, even necessitating 2 nights of shows at the Berklee Performance Center.
The most impressive aspect of the Magnetic Fields live performance is the way they are able to distinguish each song from the last both musically and lyrically. Stephen Merrit’s low and moaning, yet occasionally operatic voice will be enough to drive the tempo on one song, and then the cello will come in and groove along with the nasally sarcasm of Claudia Gonson on the next song. There may have not been any formal percussion instrument in sight, but the consistent strumming of the ukelele kept the instruments in sync. Even with a potentially monotonous instrument like the ukulele, the band did a great job of keeping the audience engaged, and entertained.
There is a really interesting sense of amateur professionalism from this band. They talk so casually and freely between songs, demonstrating no intention to put on an act. At one point they even threatened to go the whole rest of the show without banter. It felt like I was watching some of my friends play their songs in a living room or basement. Even though the newest album has been out over a month, and some of the earlierst records are over 20 years old, every joke and lyrical climax in the songs was laughed at by the audience. We may have heard these songs before, but just like when sitting around a campfire, the Magnetic Fields bring new life to their pieces when they play them live.
These songs are desperate memoirs written with whimsical and almost childish-simplicty, yet arranged with technically advanced orchestration. Blazing finger-plucked guitar intros were joined by analog synthesizer runs, and then compressed underneath the dull hum of a kazoo. It takes a risky composer to combine a melodica, a cello, and a delay-peddaled acoustic guitar together, but the Magnetic Fields were comfortable enough in their own creative skin that they didn’t mind revealing the imperfect ideas that they wanted to try out. The audience surely didn’t mind either.
The Magnetic Fields have found the true secret to their own authentic art, and nobody can argue with that. Say what you need to say. There isn’t any reason to release a bunch of cryptic poems when the blatant truth behind your emotions is complicated enough on it’s own. Their performance was organic and natural and inviting in a way that I haven’t really seen before. The band seems to be aware of how wild and exotic their lyrics are, but with the response they have received up until this point, there are no signs of stopping from the weird and relatable Magnetic Fields.