The Magnetic Fields : Dublin Olympia Theatre

Suffering from food poisoning, Stephin Merritt nonetheless soldiers on to give a brilliant peformance of his ironic torchsongs...

Stephin Merritt is a man who should know better. As a practising professional neurotic New Yorker, even the Magnetic Fields mastermind should have known that sharing a hotel with the Robbie Williams entourage is reason enough to ring the front desk to complain about the 3am footie soirees in the hall. To be felled by food poisoning on top of his rather sleepless night only prompts him to arrive into Dublin’s Olympia Theatre the following evening with the ghost of Cole Porter, his patron saint of panache, looking down upon him whispering that old show business adage, “the show must go on”. We are very pleased indeed.

On a geographical curiosity, the final date of a mini Scandinavian tour sees the Magnetic Fields human incarnate appear in the Irish Capital. Only in Merritt’s world of paradoxical surrealism would anyone find such a curious travel itinerary. Accompanied by his usual trusty interpreters of his own music, most notably his longtime sidekick Claudia Gonson tickling the ivories, the night is vintage Magnetic Fields. Despite a last minute set list change to accommodate Merritt’s ravaged stomach (just what DID he eat?) the night sees Gonson pick up the vocals slack and the night is salvaged into pure ecstasy; not a dry-eyed martini in the house.

Primarily culled from last year’s torch songfest ’69 Love Songs’, Merritt’s resonating baritone brings to life an array of characters that we all can empathize with. Kicking off with ‘Xylophone Track’, it’s clear the night’s proceedings are in for a passionate speed fest with this odd calling out to his mother. ‘The Book Of Love’ displays Merritt’s fondness for his ukulele. Gonson must count Carole King as an influence as she riffs her way through the piano chops of ‘No One Will Ever Love You’. Highlight of the night is ‘Papa Was A Rodeo’; Merritt doesn’t get anymore deadpan than this ode to all things manly.

The subtle foundation of this rather amazing 21st century cabaret is anchored by Sam Davol’s cello and John Woo’s guitar and banjo arrangements delivered in their own deadpan nonchalance. Their presence is never more felt then on the plucking brilliance of ‘Come Back From San Francisco’; never before does one want to shag a banjo. Yep, we’re definitely in Merritt country now.

Food poisoning is one of the few subjects that Merritt hasn’t dissected into little pieces and fed to his adoring public; not yet anyway. It suits him, in an ironic sort of way. Irony has never been better than this, especially from an American; now that’s ironic

Stevo Berube