Magnetic Fields

As he reaffirmed at the first night of a two-show Gotham stand, Magnetic Fields front man Stephin Merritt isn't exactly an electric presence onstage. Seated on a barstool, delivering his arch tales of romantic dislocation in a dry baritone, Merritt was more of a black hole -- soaking up energy and secreting it in some dark corner of his psyche.

With:
Band: Stephin Merritt, Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, John Woo. Also: Andrew Bird.

As he reaffirmed at the first night of a two-show Gotham stand, Magnetic Fields front man Stephin Merritt isn’t exactly an electric presence onstage. Seated on a barstool, delivering his arch tales of romantic dislocation in a dry baritone, Merritt was more of a black hole — soaking up energy and secreting it in some dark corner of his psyche.

Band’s devotees have grown not only to expect such non-hammy wryness from Merritt but to welcome both the mordant wit he displays in his songs and the nonchalant non sequiturs he offers in between — including dissections of the Whitney Biennial, the oeuvre of Pete Seeger and “The Red Balloon.”

Performing in support of the just released Nonesuch album “i,” Merritt stripped his usually spare band to its most bare-boned state in years, with all-acoustic, percussion-free backing. At times, the quartet waxed almost medieval — as on the deceptively gentle “I Was Born” — and at others, it bordered on grad-school hootenanny (particularly when guitarist John Woo switched to banjo and Merritt picked up his ukulele).

Forays into earlier work, while infrequent, were handled nicely: A reformatted “Smoke and Mirrors,” on which Merritt seemed to be channeling Stephen Sondheim, worked marvelously, as did a version of “I Don’t Believe You,” which traded Brill Building sheen for cafe society weariness.

While the nakedness of presentation played to the strength of Merritt’s meticulously constructed lyrics — most notably on the smoky, cabaret-flavored “In an Operetta” — it weakened the band’s dynamic. A hint of the off-kilter electro-pop or lounge-jazz that crept into earlier perfs would have made the ride a little less smooth but a lot more interesting.

Magnetic Fields perform at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles on July 17.

Magnetic Fields

Town Hall, New York; 1,476 seats; $25

Production: Presented by SW Prods. Opened and reviewed May 21, 2004. Closed May 22, 2004.

Cast: Band: Stephin Merritt, Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, John Woo. Also: Andrew Bird.

More Music

  • Rihanna France Concert Canceled

    Rihanna to Perform at Grammys With DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller

    As he reaffirmed at the first night of a two-show Gotham stand, Magnetic Fields front man Stephin Merritt isn’t exactly an electric presence onstage. Seated on a barstool, delivering his arch tales of romantic dislocation in a dry baritone, Merritt was more of a black hole — soaking up energy and secreting it in some […]

  • Tom Petty Died of Accidental Overdose,

    Tom Petty's Family Says He Died of Accidental Overdose

    As he reaffirmed at the first night of a two-show Gotham stand, Magnetic Fields front man Stephin Merritt isn’t exactly an electric presence onstage. Seated on a barstool, delivering his arch tales of romantic dislocation in a dry baritone, Merritt was more of a black hole — soaking up energy and secreting it in some […]

  • RCA Records Names John Fleckenstein, Joe

    John Fleckenstein and Joe Riccitelli Upped to Co-Presidents at RCA Records

    As he reaffirmed at the first night of a two-show Gotham stand, Magnetic Fields front man Stephin Merritt isn’t exactly an electric presence onstage. Seated on a barstool, delivering his arch tales of romantic dislocation in a dry baritone, Merritt was more of a black hole — soaking up energy and secreting it in some […]

  • swint disney

    Disney Hires Apple Veteran to Launch Its Netflix Killer (EXCLUSIVE)

    As he reaffirmed at the first night of a two-show Gotham stand, Magnetic Fields front man Stephin Merritt isn’t exactly an electric presence onstage. Seated on a barstool, delivering his arch tales of romantic dislocation in a dry baritone, Merritt was more of a black hole — soaking up energy and secreting it in some […]

  • Album Review: Fall Out Boy's 'MANIA'

    Album Review: Fall Out Boy's 'MANIA'

    As he reaffirmed at the first night of a two-show Gotham stand, Magnetic Fields front man Stephin Merritt isn’t exactly an electric presence onstage. Seated on a barstool, delivering his arch tales of romantic dislocation in a dry baritone, Merritt was more of a black hole — soaking up energy and secreting it in some […]

  • Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser hosts the

    Latin Music Venue The Conga Room Taps UTA for 20th Anniversary Initiatives

    As he reaffirmed at the first night of a two-show Gotham stand, Magnetic Fields front man Stephin Merritt isn’t exactly an electric presence onstage. Seated on a barstool, delivering his arch tales of romantic dislocation in a dry baritone, Merritt was more of a black hole — soaking up energy and secreting it in some […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content