Magnetic Fields – National Concert Hall – 28/08/17 – Live Review
Earlier this year, the Magnetic Fields released their 10th studio album ‘50 Song Memoir’. For those that haven’t heard it, there’s a clue in the title. Their lead singer Stephin Merritt turned 50 in 2015. To celebrate this fact he wrote 50 songs; one for each year of his life. The album contains this collection of songs, spanning five discs and over two and a half hours! For their two night residency in the National Concert Hall they will play 25 tracks on each night.
The band arrived on stage at 8pm. They were a seven piece on the night, with Stephin sitting centre stage in a recreation of a domestic setting and the rest of the band hidden behind. There was also a large ‘gilded’ frame above this set, onto which images were projected. These served as videos to each of the songs, with some impressive films and animations.
Stephin had a short scripted introduction to most of the songs. We got to hear about his unusual early years, where his hippie mother moved from one side of America to the other, dragging her son alongside. We heard tales of her crazy alcoholic Guru who asked her to move. The time she worked as a massage therapist, where they felt ‘dangerously middle-class’! A funeral of one of his Mum’s boyfriends where there were only six guests, each one an ex-girlfriend and each called Linda!
While the album does take in some of the major events in Merritt’s life, it also reflects the sounds and mood of the time. “’Hustle 76” is a standard disco hit! Synthesizer music is celebrated in “81 How to Play the Synthesizer”. There is even one detailing his academic career; ’86 – How I failed Ethics.
“The first time I made mincemeat of the standard propositions
Establishing a so-called moral science
And I declared morality an offshoot of aesthetics
And got a failing C for my defiance” – ’86 How I Failed Ethics
The musical arrangements were unusual throughout, with xylophones, Stroh violins, marimba, cellos and violins played alongside more traditional instruments such as guitars, keyboards and drums. Stephin even brought along his first guitar from his teenage years, which he played on ‘The Blizzard of ’78’.
During his early years, Stephin lived in 32 places in 20 years which makes for a variety of unusual stories. While the stories are largely true he does admit that ‘autobiography need not be the same thing as truth’. Hearing the songs in a live setting makes you appreciate the caustic wit of the lyrics. Highlights on the night included A Cat Called Dionysus (along with a great cat video), No and The Blizzard of ’78. It was a quirky and fun night of idiosyncratic pop gems. Stay tuned for part two tonight!
“In Saint Thomas, barefoot Beatniks bonk
On a boat, afloat in rum
Is it there I’m from?
I wonder where I’m from” – ’66: Wonder Where I’m From
’66 Wonder Where I’m From
’67 Come Back as a Cockroach
’68 A Cat Called Dionysus
’69 Judy Garland
’70 They’re Killing Children Over There
’71 I Think I’ll Make Another World
’72 Eye Contact
’73 It Could Have Been Paradise
’75 My Mama Ain’t
’76 Hustle 76
’77 Life Ain’t All Bad
’78 The Blizzard of ’78
’79 Rock’n’Roll Will Ruin Your Life
’80 London by Jetpack
’81 How to Play the Synthesizer
’82 Happy Beeping
’83 Foxx and I
’85 Why I Am Not a Teenager
’86 How I Failed Ethics
’87 At the Pyramid
’88 Ethan Frome
’89 The 1989 Musical Marching Zoo
’90 Dreaming in Tetris