This last Friday, I had the pleasure of watching Stephin Merritt at the Masonic Lodge, a mystifying venue inside of the gates of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Although Merritt did comment that it was one in a run of unique venues for them, the Masonic proved to be an appropriate venue for indulging in the duo comprised of his bandmate and cello player Sam Davol. The crowd was the most respectful I had ever seen; you could hear a pin drop when Merritt took a breath. Everyone was there purely to listen.
He played 26 songs, one for every letter of the alphabet, as he pointed it out around the letter “G” which did not surprise me. Merritt tends to use delightful themes for his albums (like his most noted album from the Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs) and for the book of poetry that I picked up at the merch table entitled ‘101 Two-Lettered Words.’ I was pleasantly surprised to open this little treasure and see an autograph inside.
Merritt and Davol played with only their ukulele and cello, yet the sound of their two instruments, held together with the thick peanut butter baritone voice Merritt is famous for left me feeling full. The two create a sound that is somehow both melodic and monotone at the same time. They did call one “friend“ to the stage: a metronome to keep the beat in the song “Quick!” who made for a great solution to the electronic thump keeping rhythm in the original.
The set was comprised mostly of Magnetic Fields songs, but he gave the audience a well-rounded mix. Merritt’s discography also includes his key roles in The 6ths, The Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes and Three Terrors. In addition, he also releases under his own name, which includes the music for the off-Broadway musical adaptation of Coraline as well as three musical theatre scores for director Chen Shi-zheng, including “The Ugly Little Duck.” Hearing this song for the first time was a highlight for me; his simplistic yet profound poetry brought new meanings to this classic story.
He ended the show with “Zombie Boy” which he deemed most appropriate for the venue, and oh how it was.
For an in depth play by play of the set, check out Daniel Maurer’s article “Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields Did Songs From A-Z: His Setlist and Comments.”