The Belcourt's "Artist Portraits" documentary series has been nothing less than kick-ass, and today offers your last chances to see Strange Powers, Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara's portrait of Magnetic Fields and its frontman/songwriter Stephin Merritt, perhaps rock's most brilliant and endearing sourpuss. When someone releases an album as enormous and enveloping as 1999's 69 Love Songs, please let me know.
Shows today are at 3:15 and 7:30 p.m. Below: a Scene review of Magnetic Fields' Nashville show with Lambchop, at the long-gone transvestite bar Victor/Victoria's on Eighth Avenue. The date: June 12, 1997.
Congratulations to Christopher Moon, whose Inside Out concert series at Victor/Victoria’s drew an overflow crowd last week for the first (and we hope not the last) Nashville appearance by Magnetic Fields. (Both Magnetic Fields and opening act Lambchop had opened for Yo La Tengo at a sold-out show in Chicago the weekend before.) Lead singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt’s running battle with Victor V’s wayward lighting system was a constant source of uneasy laughs. “Could you turn that off?” he intoned in a bottomless well of a voice as he stared into a dinky little strobe light that refused to be extinguished. “I’m not joking.” Blink. Blink. “Either it stops or I do.” Blink.
Nevertheless, Merritt’s dour misanthropy was as unexpectedly droll as his songs were dreamily melodic. Even with the band’s stripped-down lineup — cello, bass, drums, guitar — tunes such as “When You Were My Baby” and “Two Characters in Search of a Country Song” possessed a low-fi Spectorian grandeur. Merritt’s enthrallingly jaded vocals sounded the perfect note of melancholy amidst his ABBA-fixated singalong choruses.
As for Lambchop, the ever-evolving ensemble is turning into, of all things, an extremely capable and sometimes dazzling R&B unit. Their brilliant cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Give Me Your Love,” which wielded a wicked exotica groove and wild falsetto vocals by Kurt Wagner, shows that Lambchop has the power to fuse country and soul in hitherto unexplored ways. And it impressed me that the band stood wedged into the back of the room to watch the headliner’s set — a show of solidarity and support you don’t see often at Nashville clubs. A few more shows as amazing and original as this one, and Inside Out will make Victor/Victoria’s the hottest place in town.
We were sort of right — the place burned down.