Those seeking pin-drop silence at SXSW usually have to reserve time in a sensory-deprivation chamber or a hotel bathroom, but The Magnetic Fields' hold on a live crowd is powerful enough to yield that rarest of sounds. Headlining NPR Music's SXSW day party — held Thursday at The Parish in Austin, Texas — the long-running band gave its first SXSW performance (that's first-ever, not just this year) with a set as subdued as it was warmly beautiful.
The Magnetic Fields' new album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, is a charming set of witty trifles: synth-driven two-minute odes to doomed romances and small moments. But for this show, the band unplugged to a remarkable degree, complete with stand-up bass and acoustic guitars. Naturally, the new songs still shimmered and shone without the electronics, but The Magnetic Fields didn't skimp on the classics, either: "There'll Be Time Enough for Rocking When We're Old," "The Book of Love" and "It's Only Time" stood out among many highlights — as deadpan as they were poignant and fundamentally kind in spirit.
Of course, no one does kind, deadpan poignancy better than Stephin Merritt — even the banter between Merritt and Claudia Gonson teetered on the line between sweetness and hilarity. "I think all the songs in our set today are about unrequited love, or death, or both," Merritt said late in the show, and damned if he didn't have himself pegged. Which, in turn, makes The Magnetic Fields an uncommon chronicler of the most common and universal events life has to offer.
- "Andrew In Drag"
- "Your Girlfriend's Face"
- "It's Only Time"
- "Chicken With Its Head Cut Off"
Producers: Amy Schriefer and Robin Hilton; Video by: XI Media; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait