Stephin Merritt, Magnetic Fields, pic by Mikala Taylor/

SXSW, I blame you.

I blame you for at first scaring, then tiring out the Magnetic Fields. I blame you for making Claudia Gonson croak and the band phlegmy and pollenated and Stephin Merritt even more crotchety than normal, which is pretty damn crotchety. I blame you for making everyone on stage drink hot honey and lemon elixirs. I blame you for delivering a lovely but un-Magnetic performance.

I’m going to blame SXSW for all of that because I don’t want to blame the Magnetic Fields.

I love the Magnetic Fields. I love most every bitter and brilliant and baritone song. I love the twisted and funny and poignant lyrics. I loved the perpetual furrowed brow of Stephin (“they don’t call them Mass-holes for nothing”, said a friend who grew up in his former state) and his greeting of the first rows: “Why are you standing? Oh god, sit down.” (Or before playing “The Book of Love” and responding to the audience member’s plea of “WHY DID YOU LET PETER GABRIEL COVER THIS?” with: “What are these horrible cricket noises?”)

In fact, let’s take a minute appreciate the dry cutting of Mr. Merritt when he  went on at length about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in
Claudia Gonson, Magnetic Fields, pic by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.comBoston, and how it killed animals “very slowly……just like this next song” (“Time Enough for Rocking When We’re Old”), or how one “used to be able to move to Canada for $35,000. That was it! That was all you needed. Think of the health care costs alone! It’s really good value.” (Let’s not forget the equally sharp, if not congested, Claudia who, following some fans’ air-punching during the marching “Quick!”, dehydratedly proclaimed, afterwards: “I find that 2/4 beat to be rather effective, myself.” )

And when you combine Claudia AND Stephin?

Claudia: This song is from Holiday, recently released on VIN-ILL. Vin.Ill.
Stephin: What? (Glares, furrowed brow)
Claudia: I was just being silly.
Stephin: I think that’s enough of that.


The songs? A bit of something for the record store clerks, and swooning youngsters, heavy on the new one,  Love at the Bottom of the Sea. “Your Girlfriend’s Face”, “Andrew in Drag”, “Goin’ Back to the Country”, “I’ve Run Away to Join the Faeries”, “The Horrible Party”- Stephin on kazoo! -, “My Husband’s Pied-a-Terre”, and the aforementioned “Quick!” all featured, and Shirley Simms and her uke aced many of those.

There were also (69) Lovesongs… “No One Will Ever Love You”, “Grand Canyon” and the beautiful sad “Busby Berkeley Dreams”. There were Obscurities. There were  bits from Get Lost, Realism, The Wayward Bus, Charm of the Highway Strip and a fave Gothic Archies track “Smile, No One Cares How You Feel.” They started with “I Die” (from i) and they ended with “Forever and a Day.”

Lo, the set was sweet – sweeter still when the air-punching kids from before handed out, then threw roses on stage – a bit slow and sludgy like molasses but that’s okay, because it’s the Magnetic Fields. I think they’d also agree it was by far their un-best show, but that’s okay, because we love them anyway.

SXSW, totally not so much. \m/

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