US - New York - Full Moon 52 - 01/09/01
The Magnetic Fields
Prime Club, Cologne, GER, 03.11.00 + De Balie, Amsterdam, NL, 04.11.00
God wants us to be a punk rock band... (Claudia Gonson)
For the first time ever in Europe, The Magnetic Fields will perform their epic 69 Love
Songs album in its entirety at the Lyric Hammersmith in London, England on January 17/18th
and 19/20th. To celebrate that occasion, we take a look back on their trip to Europe this past
Of course it was a big event. Not only because The Magnetic Fields' recent
three-album-masterpiece 69 Love Songs is considered to be one of the best releases of the
year, but also because this - their first trip to mainland Europe - consisted of exactly four
dates. Unfortunately, the bad weather in England and France meant that by the time the group hit
Germany they were all more or less suffering from a bad bout of flu. Throughout the evening
singers Stephin Merritt and Claudia Gonson seemed to be very embarrassed by the fact that their
voices sounded less than perfect and despite the fact that they assured the people in front of
the stage several times that they were "the perfect audience", you couldn't help but think that
they did have all but a great time on stage. To add to that the Prime Club in Cologne is
possible the worst venue the Fields could have picked for their first ever German appearance.
With it's small stage and very low ceiling, the band never managed to create the kind of
atmosphere that would have suited their revue-style show best. They also made a big mistake to
start the show with their re-arranged lullaby version of I Don't Want To Get Over You,
arguably one of the best songs on the album, but mightily out of place in it's opening slot,
especially since the "hip" crowd was still chatting away at the bar in the back. Despite that
they did all your favourites from 69 Love Songs of course: a superb rendition of the
staggering hate-song Yeah, Oh Yeah ("a simulation", as Claudia called it), a cute, down
to earth (= non-electro-pop) version of Underwear, a beautiful The Luckiest Guy On
The Lower East Side and they managed to squeeze in a few cuts from the new 6ths album as
well, the highlight of which was He Didn't, where Stephin sounded remarkably like Bob
Mould (or vice versa). Still, the band never "clicked" and while it was a solid show, it was
far from being a great experience - even though there were some exceptional moments of course.
The very welcome encore of Washington DC for example or the only time Stephin really had
to laugh, when the lighting engineer switched on the mirror ball just as the Fields' main man
sang "the light reflecting off the - mirror ball"...
But obviously you should give everybody a second chance and the last night of this short trip
to the old world in Amsterdam proved what a great band The Magnetic Fields really are. The good
news was that the theatre Stephin & co. played was a much nicer venue, about half the size of
the Prime Club, but filled with twice as many people. And the show was about twice as good as
well, despite the fact that everything that possibly could go wrong, did go wrong indeed.
Stephin and Claudia were still in a pretty poor condition, but unlike in Cologne, they knew it
was hopeless to fight or even hide it and as a consequence Stephin didn't look embarrassed when
he hit wrong notes - he smiled! His guitar was very much out of tune, too ("it got hurt the
other night", he explained) and Claudia joked "God wants us to be a punk rock band tonight".
And punk rock it was. Well, as much punk as this band can be anyway. The set was shorter, but
it didn't matter, as the four of them chose exactly the right songs to drop and so the
performance seemed to be much tighter. Papa Was A Rodeo was spectacular and I Don't
Want To Get Over You got a much stronger crowd reaction in its new slot mid set as well.
There were tons of technical problems, like a screaming feedback from Sam Davol's amp during one
of the quieter numbers, Chicken With Its Head Cut Off. In Cologne Stephin probably
would've been close to tears because it completely ruined the song, but in Amsterdam he nearly
fell of his chair, because he was laughing so hard! Many of the songs simply sounded more
relaxed and, as a consequence, a lot better as well. Come Back From San Francisco,
Nothing Matters When We're Dancing, The Night You Can't Remember, you name it,
they played it and it sounded prefect. The whole sound of the band, especially Claudia's
excellent piano playing which made you forget that there were no drums, came across much better
in the nice. spacy theatre as well. The "it can't get any worse, so what the heck"-attitude
reached its climax when Stephin climbed on his chair to sing Very Funny high over
The Cologne show was long forgotten by the time they prepared for the - messed up, of course
- grande finale. The last song was supposed to be one of the biggest tearjerkers in the band's
repertoire, Busby Berkley Dreams, and Stephin decided to do the "Sinatra thing". He
wanted to stand at the edge of the stage with his hand-held mic and look like an ageing crooner
for a second. He managed to knock over his (already "hurt") guitar with his microphone cable
though and that was just the perfect close for an evening of many technical catastrophes, but
great entertainment and staggeringly beautiful music.
After the Cologne show the advice would have been to stay home and listen to the album
instead, but after the Amsterdam experience it would be a big mistake to let your chance slip
to see this band live!
Copyright © 2001 Carsten Wohlfeld