The Magnetic Fields – “Andrew In Drag” – ATP Festival
The lyrics to any Magnetic Fields song, if read, appear overly simplistic and often disturbing. The voices of Claudia Gonson, Shirley Simms, and Stephin Merritt easily recreate them as lighthearted, humorous or heartbreaking –sometimes all in the same song.
The fantastic acoustics at the Berklee Performance Center allow for several awkward silences. When the audience applause stops, sound ceases completely, oddly making the anticipation for the start of the next performance audible. Commenting on their informal attire by wondering aloud if anyone had worn “the wrong hat,” The Magnetic Fields occupied the stage as though they were rehearsing for a stale vaudeville act, but performed their songs with sincerity and grace. Stephin Merritt joked enviously about how Kraftwerk’s luxury of performing their entire catalog over eight nights in the same venue would be impossible for The Magnetic Fields. The likelihood of the low-key 5 piece garnering the fervent excitement necessary to sell out as many nights in the same venue, never mind the 23 nights it would take to perform their catalog, didn’t seem good to Stephin Merritt.
Merritt and Gonson have been performing together in some form since high school with Merritt being the distinctively recognizable voice and primary songwriter in the collaboration. His deep bass vocal tone injects a resigned sadness to otherwise overly sentimental lyrics with a touch of humor. It’s a unique quality that paints Merritt as a perpetually contented sad clown who knows he’ll never catch a break.
The majority of the back to back Friday and Saturday shows at Berklee drew from the newest group of short 3 minute songs, Love at The Bottom of the Sea, as well as from the popular collection 69 Love Songs which, despite popular perception, according to Merritt, is not the only Magnetic Fields album. Most songs on the current album focus on the fallout from romantic entanglements; pining, denouncing love or plotting revenge on a replacement girlfriend’s face. All in all they make for easily relatable, even if slightly frightening, crowd pleasers.
Concerts rarely begin on time and the auditorium was half full when the lights dimmed promptly at 8:00 for opener Devotchka who are touring in support of their new album on Anti- records, 100 Lovers. The theme of complicated romance and Nick Urata’s haunting voice easily won the growing crowd over.