The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08

The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08

By Amrit Singh
As with most Magnetic Fields albums, Distortion is organized around a singular concept. Unlike say 69 Love Songs (love songs, guess how many) or i (songs all beginning with the same letter, guess which one), though, the principle at play on the latest has nothing to do with words or their components; as Merritt confessed not too long ago (and repeatedly since), “Psychocandy is the last significant event in popular music production,” and Distortion is a paean to that scuzzed, reverbed, and yes distorted sonic space. To all that, you say: yeah, oh yeah … duh. I know, but that’s the necessary backdrop to dig into what went down for four nights in NYC this past week, where Stephin and his magical Magnetic Fields set up across Town Hall’s stage and offered career (and Merritt project) spanning sets in a stripped, baroque pop context: no electric instruments and definitely no fuzz pedals — Stephin’s left-ear hyperacusis, which gives him painful sensitivity to certain frequencies (applause included), wouldn’t have that — this was an acoustic trek through the Merritt songbook as joined by John Woo (acoustic guitar), Sam Davol (cello), Shirley Simms (vocals) and Claudia Gonson (piano, vocals).

So Saturday night was spent with Merritt the tunesmith; not the production geek he’s been of late but the lyrical, lovable, humorous hangdog. And when this latest batch of tunes was stripped of their clamoring layers of fuzz and piano feedback that night, my focus redirected, I could see even more clearly — he’s deep into both roles with on Distortion. Here’s a look at the setlist:

The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08

SETLIST
01 “Wasps’ Nests” (The 6ths)
02 “No one Will Every Love You”
03 “California Girls”
04 “The Abandoned Castle Of My Soul” (The Gothic Archies)
05 “The Nun’s Litany”
06 “I Looked All Over Town”
07 “Epitaph For My Heart”
08 “I Don’t Believe You”
09 “Dreams Anymore”
10 “The Little Ukulele”
11 “All Dressed Up In Dreams” (The 6ths)
12 “Zombie Boy”
13 “Papa Was A Rodeo”
—-
14 “Take Ecstasy With Me”
15 “Courtesans”
16 “Crows Everywhere” (The Gothic Archies)
17 “Too Drunk To Dream”
18 “The Book Of Love”
19 “No River” (Future Bible Heroes)
20 “Drive On, Driver”
21 “What A Fucking Lovely Day!” (Merritt tune from Showtunes)
22 “Yeah! Oh, Yeah!”
23 “It’s Only Time”
—-
24 “Three-Way”
25 “As You Turn To Go” (The 6ths)
26 “Grand Canyon”

I’m thinking a good number of folks read Gabe’s hilarious “Open Letter to the Audience from Last Night’s Magnetic Fields Show at Town Hall,” because for the most part the smug guffaws were kept to an unobtrusively low roar (and then “The Nun’s Litany” happened and Stephin took vocals and I laughed repeatedly and I had no choice but to hate myself). Could’ve used a lot more Charm Of The Highway Strip (never did get personal faves “Long Vermont Roads,” “Born On A Train,” “I Have The Moon,” sadly) but I walked out more obsessed with the guy than ever. He’s a droll model.

The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08
The Magnetic Fields @ Town Hall, NYC 2/23/08