Discovering of The Magnetic Fields [Tall Glass of Shame]
In the year 2000 I was living in Seattle Washington and attending Cornish College of the Arts, living in my own little bohemian world and enjoying the rainy emerald city. Every Summer right before school started back up, the music festival Bumbershoot would take place during Labor Day Weekend and I would make sure I had a ticket for every single day of the event. Each day I would huff it down the hill to check out as many different musical acts as I could with the evening culminating in whatever the huge performer was on stage for that year. In 2000 I stumbled across a group I had never heard of before called The Magnetic Fields and began an instant love affair with their music.
My friend Ginny was my musical discovery partner for the weekend and she suggested we make our way over to the Opera House venue to check out The Magnetic Fields. I was game to see something new as I was still coming down off my high from seeing Elliot Smith perform the day before and was totally excited to check out Tracy Chapman later that day. A huge venue like the Seattle Opera House was a very odd place for this group to perform but in a strange way it was perfection. The soft and sexy tone of Stephin Merritt’s voice crooning out into the plush venue that seated 3,000 was a perfect match surprisingly, especially with an audience so enthusiastic about the songs off their latest release at the time: “69 Love Songs.” After this afternoon with The Magnetic Fields, one thing was for sure: I had to get my hands on every single song immediately!
My love for this strange, almost unclassifiable band has stayed strong over the years, but this past week I got my first chance to see them live since that great afternoon in Seattle. Living in LA now, I am lucky enough to have a friend who nabbed two tickets and even backstage passes to their show here at the Orpheum Theater. (Yeah, LA moment of the week when you know someone who knows someone…) I must say that with the passage of time their song writing skills just get better. I have always loved how this band has a great sense of wordplay, this is music for the well spoken and well read modern thinker. Their songs are filled with pain and humor making them all completely relatable to anyone with a heart.
The Magnetic Fields are a prolific band and deserve more accolades and notoriety than they have received over the years. In a way perhaps that is a good thing, keeping them as a special treat that not everyone is “in the know” about. If you looked around at the concert you could tell it was a special kind of audience that flocked to this band’s shows, these people are not your typical dancing, drinking and screeching concertgoer. Imagine all the people out there listening to NPR right now, now imagine them in one room…
One of my favorite songs of theirs is “Papa Was A Rodeo” off their amazing 3 CD collection of songs titled 69 Love Songs. Here is a fan made vid that evokes it rather well.
Their newest album has another great mix of funny and thoughtful music that is a pleasure to listen to, showing a much stronger foray into the synth sound. Here’s their music video for the song “Andrew In Drag” off the new album Love At The Bottom Of The Sea. (Warning: some boobies show briefly so use caution if viewing at work… blah blah blah)
One song they played that made me laugh was “Your Girlfriend’s Face.” I think everyone has been this sweetly homicidal with jealousy at some point in their lives, right? *crickets…
And everyone has been here: “The Horrible Party.” This song is all too true a telling of what it feels like to be trapped at a horrible party.
Now while I did get to meet the band backstage, which was a thrill and a half, I won’t bore you with regaling the stories of polite people sipping wine and hob-nobbing with Patton Oswalt and the band. I will say however, between you and me that Stephin Merritt’s mother looks amazingly fierce at her age, and Patton Oswalt is a super nice and charming guy! I’m going to go finish adding their new CD to my itunes now and maybe spend a little time revisiting their masterful take on every kind of conceivable love: 69 Love Songs. For those of you that are new to this band, start with that album and move forward to their latest “Love At The Bottom Of The Sea.” As I’m not one to gush in person I’d like to say a quick thank you to Stephin Merritt for writing some of the best songs on my playlist of the last 20 years, your music has gotten me through many a tough day and the odd break-up.
PS everyone: The opening act was also a bit of a surprise, it was a performer named “Bachelorette.” With her act being just her, a fascinating digital backdrop and her laptop, she created some incredible soundscapes that both mesmerized and surprised. I have got to go out and get myself some more of her music to see what else she has in store. Check out the music video for “Blanket” by Bachelorette off her self titled album of 2011.