the magnetic fields recently brought their road show through the pacific northwest. they played two night stints in both portland and seattle. i was originally only going to see them here in portland, but some serendipitous timing with a traveling friend and birthday plans of another friend, i was able to catch the second night’s show in both towns.
mark eitzel opened both shows. back in high school i was a fan of his band american music club, but they weren’t something that stuck with me, and when he started turning up with solo shows a while back i didn’t pay him too much attention. his crooning form of spoken word was a little bit of a surprise and much more interesting than i thought it would be. the acoustics of both venues really agreed with his voice, which sounds better than when he sang for american music club. he was a good choice of opener.
the magnetic fields generally tour with two set lists, they are not a group for spontaneity. i knew even before the shows that we were probably going to hear the same songs both nights, and we did. if you’ve seen the magnetic fields before, you know that live (musically anyway) they are very rehearsed, so both nights almost identical. the onstage banter ranged from hilarious to awkward silence, stephin merrit and claudia gonson have known each other so long that they have a secret twin language of their own. they come off both endearing and mild irritating. in their live shows the magnetic fields play songs from all of the stephin merrit songbook, of course a group of songs from realism. i believe every stephin merrit project was represented except for future bible heroes and his musical/soundtrack work. what excited me most was that they played two songs off of get lost, my favorite the magnetic fields album. they played perfectly and the crowds at both venue were adoring.
since musically the two shows were identical, the only differences were those caused by the different venues. in portland they played a the aladdin theater, one of my favorite venues. we got there fairly early and got seats with great sight lines. they were a great fit for the theater and we got a bonus song from stephin’s coraline musical. in seattle they were at town hall, not one of my favorite places. the sound is good, but the floor is flat and the seats are wooden pews which are not comfortable. also town hall never gets dark enough for me to be totally absorbed in the show. the portland show wins because the venue was great for them.