The Magnetic Fields have been on my list of bands to see for a long time. Therefore you can probably imagine how excited I felt to be standing outside the Barbican Hall waiting to go in to see them. Despite my excitement, I was a little nervous that they would not live up to my ridiculously high expectations; that if they were not as good as I hoped I would no longer be able to enjoy their music. This was coupled with the fact that ‘The Guardian’ had given their Manchester gig from two nights before a particularly scathing review.

I was not, however, to be disappointed. The concert was as different an experience to any gig I’ve ever been to, but this just elevated the experience for me. The band, despite having experimented with synths, chose to play acoustically upon an array of instruments, which included a guitar, cello and auto-harp. Stephin Merritt played the ukulele and shared vocals with two female band members, Claudia Gonson and Shirley Simms. The band had made an obvious calculated choice to sit in a close semi circle placing Stephin, usually considered the mastermind behind the band, on the far right.

The Barbican Hall, with its modern grandeur, seemed to provide a comforting ambience despite its largeness and provided a good backdrop to their magnificent set. I was interested to see that unlike the normal rowdy crowd you expect at an indie rock gig, this audience remained in an awe-like silence for the duration of the concert (apart from to applaud enthusiastically at the end of each song, of course) which meant you caught every word uttered in Stephin’s low growling voice.

They played a real mix of songs from a variety of albums, including ‘69 Love Songs’, ‘Distortion’ and their most recent record, ‘Realism’. The highlights of the night included ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’ and ‘All The Umbrellas in London’ as well as a duet with indie-pop princess Amelia Fletcher (Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Tender Trap), who rose out of the audience to join the band on stage to sing ‘Looking for Love in the Hall of Mirrors’, a song written for one of Stephin’s side projects, the 6ths. Between each song there was a light-hearted banter from Stephin and Claudia; in reference to ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’ Stephin uttered “Everything in it is a lie.”

The set also included a track written by Stephin for another side project, the Gothic Archies; ‘Shipwrecked’ (composed to accompany the final book in the Lemony Snicket series) talked of decapitating the crew of a ship in order to get your loved one to yourself. There was also a superb encore which consisted of ‘100,000 Fireflies’, sung by Stephin rather than a female vocalist, and ‘Papa was a Rodeo’, where Stephin arose from the stool he had been perched on all night and proceeded to limply move his mic lead in a whip-like fashion to the amusement of the crowd.

The band succeeded in displaying both sides of Stephin’s song-writing; the sadness and the sense of humour that he simultaneously manages to conjure up. This was an absolutely wonderful gig. In fact it was more than that - it was an experience. One that I found myself thinking about hours and days after.

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Commenting On: Barbican, London, 22/3/2010 - Magnetic Fields

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