[13 February 2010]
Multiple online music forums were abuzz when it was announced that The Magnetic Fields would be playing at The Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto. A gorgeous venue that provides comfortable seats and outstanding sound quality to its audience, it was no coincidence that the band performed the entire show seated and playing in an almost orchestral style.
The Magnetic Fields, brainchild of front man Stephen Merritt, included band regulars Claudia Gonson (piano and vocals), John Woo (guitar), and Sam Davol (cello) as well as Shirley Sims, most notable for her work on the 1999 release 69 Love Songs. Together they entertained the crowd with selections spanning much of the Magnetic Fields’ vast catalogue, including “The One You Really Love”, “Falling In Love With The Wolfboy”, “I Don’t Want To Get Over You”, and “Acoustic Guitar”. (Singing duties were shared by Merritt, Sims, and Gonson—who, suffering from a cold, sang with a hoarse voice). The combination of the rich sounding stringed instruments, Merritt’s baritone vocals, and the group’s backing vocals was symphonic and lovely. The continuous harmony of the show was upset, however, by Merritt and Gonson’s frequent digressions and deadpan attempts at humorous banter. This tended to interrupt the flow of the otherwise pleasant vibe. In this vein, the two discussed observations about the “alien green lighting” that would periodically appear over the crowd and Gonson expecting slimy arms to reach out and start grabbing people. Though many fans giggled with glee during these exchanges, I found it diminished the musical act as a whole. All said, the concert was enjoyable, but I think a more traditional stand up presentation of The Magnetic Fields and their electronic-infused songs would have better highlighted the force of their music.