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flag 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 November.

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 everybody's heads...

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 e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Magnetic Fields article/review: an interview with Stephin Merritt.

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