The Magnetic Fields Play Place Like This

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

The Magnetic Fields at Manchester Cathedral, Manchester

On a low stage at the grand auspice of Manchester Cathedral The Magnetic Fields are a curious enchantment. The first popular music band to perform in the religious hall since the 17th century Stephin Merritt - perched on a stool some two meets from the front row of the audience growls through Popa Was A Rodeo intoning "What are we doing in this dive bar/how can we live in a place like this? sweeping his arm behind him to the grandiose splendour.

The question is valid and sticks in the mind. How did the dour gay New Yorker, a refined singer, a cello player, a classic guitarist and the omni-talented Claudia Gonson end up with this level of respectability? One doubts that this night was ever part of any plan. It is a delicious irony and one which does not go unmentioned. From the underrated last twenty three of 69 Love Songs comes Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget - a double header:

Merritt: I'll turn into God Himself and then you'll come to me
Gonson: Well I will not believe in you and then where will you be...

Arriving late three seats in the front row are waiting for us for no good reason as if Merritt were about to dismount his stool and in the style of the new offensive comedians start abusing audience members who feared being sighted.

The inner workings of The Magnetic Fields at close range is a sight to behold and for a time one wonders if Merritt is really permanently annoyed - it would seem from his expression he is tonight - and that Gonson is that vivacious. An attempt to swipe guitarist John Woo and cello man Sam Devol's shared songbook is rebuffed by one of the crew after the gig. "They keep working on it, you know, changing things each night" he says "so they still need it."

For some it is as entrancing as music gets. Seated and discouraged from applauding it is more a performance than a gig and as such it obeys rules if not of the classic theatre then of the theatrical review. Kiss Me Like You Mean It is chutzpah, Shipwrecked bawdy comedy, Night Falls Like A Grand Piano definitive, and heartbreaking.

The Magnetic Fields are an acquired taste though - there are elements of tweeness and reverence in the audience which border on the grotesque - but one with substance. Departing on train it is speculated that should all be killed in a hideous ball of fire in a crash then, on balance, it would have been a good night.

Inspiring cynical lyricism in that way before The Magnetic Fields are infectious.

Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

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