Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Magnetic Fields in Austin - Part II

The Magnetic Field show on Friday was great. This entry is meant to appeal to fans of the band. It's excessively detailed, but that's what I do for my favorite bands. So, if you find such dorkiness untenable, move on to other more accessible entries.

The venue was at Hogg Memorial Auditorium, a concert hall on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Constructed in 1933, it was named for a Governor of Texas, now mostly famous for naming his daughter Ima Hogg. The other supposed daughter, Ura, is entirely fictional. The University used to have classes there when the seats were still equipped with swinging desktops. It was also a venue for the now-defunct University film program that screened old movies from the US and the rest of the world at ludicrously cheap prices.

On the doors to the Hogg was a sign noting that the performance was being taped for a documentary about The Magnetic Fields and that entering gave them permission to use your image, etc, etc. Interestingly, to Austinites anyway, is that the director of the doc was Kerthy Fix, known in Austin years ago for being a VJ on our local music video channel and performance art pieces that often featured her doing things like having puppies licking tuna butter off her nipples or pulling a cinderblock with her Kegel muscles. Anyway, she's based out of New York now. Perhaps our New York friends can look up Kerthy Fix Productions NYC in the phonebook and check out this documentary.

Darren Hanlon opened the show and my friends and I were pleasantly surprised. We knew nothing about him aside from him being an Australian singer-songwriter on the same label as The Lucksmiths. He sang quite clever songs interspersed with little stories, like an involved one about the Wasa which he told to explain just one line in the next song. Just charming. I recommend checking out his music.

In something that's beginning to repeat often enough to be annoying, he was told that of all the US, Texas was the most like Australia. Seeing just Houston and Austin he didn't get it. See, West Texas is kind of like the Australia Outback only in that they're both sort of desolate. But then West Texas is a lot like the rest of the Southwest in that regard. So the comparison that Texas is like Australia really falls apart.

Anyway, he quickly became fond of Austin because 1)he found a couple arcades across from campus that had pinball machines and 2) the 37th St. Christmas lights, which really are wonderful. Pleased with his performance and being the sort of fellow I am, I wrote out directions to a restaurant in Austin that's known for its collection of vintage pinball machines. He was quite excited by the prospect, I hope he got to go.

After a short break, The Magnetic Fields took the stage. Interestingly, Sam had only his acoustic cello; the electric one did not make an appearance. Also, Claudia played an upright piano, which is ridiculous because the campus is lousy with baby grands. There's one in the building next door for cryin' out loud.

Here follows a setlist and some of the banter from the evening (and no, I didn't record the show, just took notes).

Claudia: I watched you come in and you're really good looking. Like rivaling Scandinavia.

Stephin: Besides the obvious woman in the first row, I don't know what you're talking about.

C: We're a bit discombobulated traveling through the South. Our last show was in Orlando, home of the younger brother. George Bush made a speech there and Stephin and I were making fun of the fact that he couldn't pronounce environment. [several inaccurate pronunciations] The audience was like [shocked inhalation], "You're mocking our God." We're used to New York.

1. I Was Born

Stephin sings "sinnnnnng" with a raspy growl. Explains that he likes to do a different impression each night, in the future he'd do Barbra Streisand. No explanation of who he was doing this night. Then he explains that Claudia and him were in a punk band long ago (was that The Zinnias? Who had a song called "Filled With Leeches"?). Sings "bounce on your rubber ball" and "silver beast in your teeth" weirdly with Claudia joining in. They explain that they were bad and trying to sing like Johnny Lydon.

2. I Don't Believe in the Sun

3. A Chicken With It's Head Cut Off

Quite slow bridge on this one.

S: What is this [next] song about? I've never understood.

C: That's a feeder line.

Claudia explains the next song is about a sad clown, which is hilarious because just before the show started a friend and I were discussing clown porn. By "discussing" I mean I mentioned seeing a bit of it on an HBO documentary and she recoiled in horror. She's scared of clowns. Anyway, she started giggling about the sad clown and we thought the same terrible thing.

C: This is from our newish album "i", or as they say in Spanish "ee".

They count out four and start the song.

4. I Looked All Over Town

Stephin goes off about how they should count 4, 3, 2, 1 right before the end of a song and how it's never been done before.

Claudia launches into an extended discussion of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love album, which she has brought on tour. Stephin attempts to sing like Kate Bush and it's all very silly.

At this point, I should note that Claudia continually brings up homosexuality throughout the show vis a vis whether or not every song was or was not about homosexuality. I would go so far as to say it became the theme of the evening.

C: Apropos of homosexality, this song is about the capital of homosexuality. Well, the other capital [Austin is quite gay and the capital of Texas].

5. Come back from San Francisco

C: This song is also from our album "i", which the French call "eh".

S: Someone count to four in Finnish.

C: Finnish anyone? How about Norwegian? One-oh, two-oh, three-o, four-o.

S: That's Italian.

6. I Don't Really Love You Anymore

Done country swing style with significant banjo.

C: This is from our album Get Lost. It's the one that has a picture of all the people not in the band except for Sam.

Sam smiles and discreetly flashes la mano cornudo, otherwise known as the metal Rock On sign or for Texans, Hook 'em Horns.

7. All the Umbrellas in London

Beautiful guitar harmonics from John.

8. If You Don't Cry

C: This if from our album of vampire songs, the black and yellow album


S: (deadpan sepulchral) Mostly black.

C: Vampires don't like to go out in the daytime.

S: (brightly) When they do, they wear yellow.

9. Born on a Train

10. I Wish I Had an Evil Twin

Extended discussion of doppelgangers.

11. I Don't Believe You

Claudia helpfully demonstrates the first line by doing air quotes.

Song ends and Claudia starts using the phrase "coffers of memory" to describe the next song. Stephin likes it but doesn't quite understand. They start repeating it, shift it to "copperheads of memory" and then, of course, starting hissing like snakes. Did I mention that this was their second to last tour date and they're getting very silly?

12. Summer Lies

Audience freakout.

13. All My Little Words

14. Hall of Mirrors

C: That song wasn't about homosexuality. [ha!] This one is though.

15. I Though You Were My Boyfriend

C: This [next] song is not about homosexuality.

(pause as Stephin reviews lyrics)

S: No, it's not. It's about blackface, sexism … and metaphor.

16. A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody

17. Swinging London

18. Smoke & Mirrors

Claudia exits stage. Stephin shushes audience

19. Book of Love

I've heard this song so many times on the CD and live, and still I teared up. Cold medication or heartfelt emotion?

Claudia returns to the stage with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a drink for Stephin. Explains that it's something to keep him occupied while she sings a 30 second song.

20. Reno Dakota

Thunderous applause.

C: We've had our snack break now back to the show.

21. If There's Such a Thing as Love

Stephin is visibly excited and stops the count-off to announce that he has an anecdote. He tells the story of how he wrote the verses, but not the chorus, of the next song in Austin at the Rainbow Cattle Co. [a gay cowboy bar]

S: The Rainbow Cattle Co. is a dermatology office outside of town. Specializing in cattle.

22. Papa Was a Rodeo

Crowd predictably goes nuts. And yes, they did the mirror ball gag.

C: Someone told me that Kelly Hogan is playing tonight too [opening for and backing up Neko Case]. Wouldn't it be a weird moment of synchronicity if she was playing it at the same time? [Hogan did a cover of "Papa" very soon after 69LS was released] Except her Mike is male and ours is female.

Stephin pulls back from his mic and starts examining it warily.

S: I think mine is male. Except it has this bump on the end.

C: They all that have.

Claudia does the opening bit of Epitaph for My Heart and some audience-members whoop it up. She stops, explaining that they don't remember it. Sam and John do their opening bits and Claudia admits that they know it, but not her and Stephin.

23. All I Wanna Know

Claudia explains the next song has become a gay marriage anthem, the song the couple dance to at the reception. So, it's been done many times already but feel free to use it for gay or straight wedding.

C: I guess we'll play it. And then you can hear it.

S: The loyal opposition would like to take the contradictory stance. If you're about to get married, stop. Are you doing the right thing?

C: There's still time to break up.

24. It's Only Time

Band exits stage. Standing ovation. It is a bit silly, eh Mark?

Band returns.

C: Anyone finish your finals today? [scattered applause] You've completed another semester.

S: Not necessarily.

25. Yeah! Oh, Yeah!

C: That song is about spousal abuse.

S: Millions killed, all feeding into that song. Animals too.

26. I Die

Incredibly beautiful guitar harmonics from John.

All in all, a great show.

New shirts were available in two styles. The first one is black with THE (in red) MAGNETIC FIELDS (in silver) horizontally across the front. The second is available in light brown and grey. The front has a large "i" like the CD cover, the back is like the front of the black shirt. Speaking of which, why aren't shirts available through House of Tomorrow?.

I wish I had pictures for you. If anyone has one or two that I could post, add a comment below. Thanks for reading.


  1. I hope it's not bad form to single out the one non-Magnetic Fields-related element in the post to comment on, but this is a quality of life issue, so I have to ask: What restaurant is known for its vintage pinball machines, and how come I don't know about it?


  2. Just because a certain mutual friend chastised me for it (even though I responded to Joolie privately), the place with the vintage pinball games is Waterloo Ice House on 38th just West of Lamar.