Magnetic Fields


I first heard of The Magnetic Fields on WCBE, when their 69 Love Songs was released. I immediately purchased all three discs, and have enjoyed listening to them. Many of the songs are silly, a few are weird, but they’re all pleasing to listen to musically and lyrically. Stephen Merritt has this wonderfully deep voice, unlike anything else in the collection of music to which I generally listen. Brannon gave me their latest album, i, as a birthday gift. It continues the tradition of thought-provoking silliness (Carina’s favorite song, for example, is “I Wish I Had an Evil Twin”).

Carina and I saw TMF in concert last night, and had an absolutely wonderful time. Andrew Byrd started the evening off. It was incredible to watch Andrew perform, as I’ve never seen such an engineered performance before, let alone such an engineered one-man act! He’d start off plucking a violin (?) which was recorded and played back to lay down the rhythm of the song. Then he’d play, record and loop a harmony on top of that. Finally he’d play the main segments on either the violin or guitar (or both!) while singing, whistling and occasionally playing a glockinspiel. It was really something to watch him construct such dynamic compositions right in front of us. And the songs were quite good, too!

After a short break, TMF took the stage with very little hooplah. It was just four of them, playing uekelele, cello, guitar (and sometimes banjo) and a piano respectively. They didn’t make any theatrics, they didn’t “work” the audience, and they didn’t fool around. They simply played their music, and played it well. We had front-row seats, so Carina and I both enjoyed watching (and comparing) each of their mannerisms. The guitatist didn’t hardly move, except to swap guitar or banjo, after which he went back to slouching over his instrument. The cellist had this constant half-smirk, like he was mildly annoyed by the others. The pianist chatted with the audience the most. She sounded a little spacey. Carina thought she had a cold.

I was surprised when Claudia mourned the loss of the Kahiki! More than just a few in the audience knew what she was talking about, too, despite the overall youth of the college crowd.

It was delightful to listen to the music. As usual, listening to a band perform live is significantly different from just listening to their CDs, and I found new reasons to enjoy the music. My mind wandered comfortably back over some fond memories … concerts I’d shared with Carina: Beck, the Flaming Lips, Cake, They Might Be Giants … emotions I’ve felt toward women in my youth … emotions I’ve felt – and still feel! – toward my wife … As I told Carina on our walk home, one of the things that I truly enjoy about TMF’s lyrics is that they’re usually a little more complex than your traditional pop-rock love ballads. TMF sings about the good and the bad – sometimes both at the same time – about being in love, or trying to love.

I truly hope that TMF comes back to Columbus, because they’re a group I would definitely see again!

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