Show Review: Stephin Merritt @ Central Presbyterian (5/8)

When you’re given the opportunity to catch Stephin Merritt, you better believe I’m going to jump at the chance.  I’ve been obsessed with Stephin’s work for close to two decades, marveling at his wit, and his output.  He brought along fellow Magnetic Fields member Sam Davol for accompaniment, packed folks into the Central Presbyterian Church and treated us to an evening of tunes from his catalog, spanning A to Z.

Read on for my thoughts, and for photos from Brian Gray.

A church setting, especially this one, provides a unique moment for the witnessing of a songsmith such as Stephin.  Stained glass windows, dimly lit by fading light, ornate wood work and generally speaking an atmosphere of quieted observation.  It’s a far cry from your regular evening out at a show, and Amy Bezunartea opened up the evening in perfect fashion.

Her songs dealt mostly with the thematic elements of love, both lost and searching, yet she employed similar wordplay as the show’s headliner, tossing out rhyming couplets here and there, to much applause from the audience.  Armed only with her acoustic guitar, I couldn’t help but remark how her tunes filled the cavernous room, aided by the absolute quiet in the large room.  She did her part, and exited with few words spoken, leaving us with a subtle glimpse at what the rest of our evening would entail.

Thirty minutes later, Stephin Merritt and Sam Davol walked upon the stage, settling into their chairs just long enough to address the crowd before the went into “Andrew in Drag,” which was the beginning of our 26 song affair. Interestingly, though Stephin had mapped out the entire alphabet in accordance with his vast catalog, he seems to have overlooked the usage of articles in his setlist, as he followed up the opener with “The Book of Love” and “A Chicken with Its Head Cut Off.” But, those are just semantics, and they’re quite irrelevant, as the concept pulled from his various projects the 6th, Future Bible Heroes, Magnetic Fields and tracks he’s scored for plays and film.

Music aside, one has to take note of how warm and charming Stephin can be, though he’s often seen as an angry old poet.  Every time a song required, he noted how inappropriate it was in a church setting, always soliciting a laugh from the audience.  He’s captivating at all times, and as he pulls his head away from the microphone to eek out every last note in the vocals, your eyes are always following his every move. For my two cents, I say it’s time we put the curmudgeon tag to rest; he’s much more than that, and has given us (me) a great deal to appreciate.

He stopped the set at Y, walking off stage, only to return for the required encore of “Zombie Boy,” filling out the evening’s set list from A to Z.  It was a wonderful evening, leaving those that cherish Stephin’s work with a glowing grin across their face as they left the church.

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