Touring in support of their latest album Love at the Bottom of the Sea, Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields brought their unique brand of acerbic indie rock to our nation’s capital last night. The opener, Devotchka (of Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack fame), was simply spectacular, playing a taut set of high-energy southwestern desert rock.
Having seen the Magnetic Fields several times before, I knew what I was getting into, and they certainly delivered. However, the show was a double-edged sword. The acoustics of 9:30 served the band and their traditional lo-fi live setup quite well, but despite their crisp craftsmanship, it was pretty unpleasant to stand still for over two hours. There’s a reason why they usually do seated shows. I suggest they go back to that format for the remainder of this tour and beyond.
The set list was hit or miss, playing a melange of new and old, including hits as well as the obscure, the highlight consisting of a stellar string of songs from 69 Love Songs, their highly recommended 3-disc album from 1999 in which Merritt’s acclaimed songwriting was never better.
Notable was the absence of Washington, D.C. from the set list. Why not give the home crowd what they want? It wasn’t too surprising — the Magnetic Fields aren’t ones to compromise. Luckily hubris didn’t get the better of them, as they didn’t stray too far from the old gems. Unfortunately the encore was short and devoid of favorites. I give it a 3 of 5.