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In concert: Magnetic Fields

Magnetic FieldsStephin Merritt and Magnetic Fields performed for an enraptured crowd at Lisner Auditorium Thursday night. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Dave McKenna

Rhyming matters to Stephin Merritt as much as it does a typical rapper. Going through his amazing pop/show-tunesy songbook with his group, Magnetic Fields, and before an awestruck and church-quiet audience at Lisner Auditorium on Thursday, Merritt's rhymes occasionally were as comically forced as those Nipsey Russell delivered on vintage episodes of "Match Game." For "I Don't Want to Get Over You," for example, he wedged "Camus" opposite "blue." And "The Nun's Litany" found "dominatrix" opposite "all those gay tricks."

(So clever, so sad. Plus more pictures, after the jump.)

Magnetic Fields

But even when the wordplay got giggly, Merritt and others in his spare and mostly acoustic quintet set a somber mood. The longtime New Yorker now based in Los Angeles is simultaneously clever and sad to a degree more commonly found in British artists; Richard Thompson and Billy Bragg came to mind on "Falling Out of Love (With You)," as Merritt, on ukulele, sang brutal couplets such as: "Every hour kills a flower/I'm falling out of love with you." Merritt’s melodies, meanwhile, have a "Wow!" quotient few combos from any continent can compete with.

Merritt can write in any style, though his faux country and folk tunes sometimes condescend to the real thing. The new "We're Having a Hootenanny" was as brutal to folkies as anything in "A Mighty Wind," and Merritt must have written the Irish jiggy "Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Geget" after somebody peeved him at a St. Patrick's Day parade.

Merritt doesn't need to be witty or maudlin or to mimic to come off brilliantly. After the final verse of "Lindy-Lou," Merritt simply hummed the songs main riff, and the impact was glorious. But Merritt was unable to accept the crowd's worship. A hearing disability makes applause literally painful for him, so he hurried offstage covering one ear.

Magnetic Fields

Magnetic Fields

Magnetic Fields

By David Malitz  |  February 5, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Magnetic Fields  
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Next: Interview: Eric Church on country fakers, going for big success and wimpy rock music

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