“Congratulations, you found us,” Magnetic Field’s leader Stephin Merritt deadpanned to the crowd overflowing the El Rey Theater. Originally conceived as a two-night stand at the Knitting Factory where the New York-based quartet would perform its latest album “69 Love Songs” in its entirety and in order, the Knit’s construction delays forced the move and abridged the set to 32 of the three-CD set’s songs.
Even scaled back, Merritt’s ambition and accomplishment were readily apparent. Since releasing his first album nearly a decade ago, Merritt has become one of the most sophisticated and facile songwriters working today, combining a sure hand at melodic hooks with wryly maudlin lyrics, imbuing his electropop with an engaging warmth.
The band’s well-chosen set concentrated on the album’s best songs, from the Big Sky “Miss Otis Regrets” of “Reno Dakota,” the extended barnyard metaphor of “Chicken With Its Head Cut Off” and the wordplay of “Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin.”
The band does not try to re-create the album’s sound; this tour, its eschewed drums and the two guitar, cello and piano line-up give the songs a low key cabaret or chamber music feel, which is accented by Merritt spending most of the nearly two hour set seated.
Given this limited sonic palate, Merritt avoids monotony with deft arrangements, adding banjo, ukulele, accordion and slide guitar, rickety old-fashioned sounds that suit his classic, Tim Pan Alley-influenced compositions.
Claudia Gonson’s lilting vocals provided a counterpoint to Merritt’s baritone sighs.