Genius singer-songwriter Stephen Merritt sits steadily in a bar stool on the stage of the Kreuzberg Lido Club. The guy wrote so many incredibly beautiful pop songs that one would have wished for him and his band The Magnetic Fields the largest halls for one of their rare concerts in Berlin. But instead, the performance was carried over here at short notice from Neukölln’s more spacious Huxleys Neue Welt. And the American squad can’t even fill the quiet Lido. Stephen Merritt will likely remain a giant of his guild forever, which few insiders adore without limits.
Of course, only a few minutes after their concert, one can understand why magnetic fields are not suitable for fans. Everything about the band is just so quirky and weird to break out of the inner party niche. The lineup alone: two guitarists, Shirley Sims on the ukulele, one plays the cello, not just here and there, but constantly, then the other presses the keys of the keyboard.
Without drummers and guitarists, this results in a fairly special chamber music group for pop music. Nobody sets a beat or builds a rhythmic framework that gives the songs being performed a solid foundation. And so it always remains a little twisted and one always fears that it might collapse before the eyes and ears of the audience.
And the band, and especially Stephen Merritt, doesn’t have anything like star charisma anyway. He’s a man in his late fifties with a large center section, wearing a trucker hat and a teddy bear-printed toddler T-shirt. And he doesn’t get up from the bar chair almost throughout the concert, so he refuses to show things off to the extreme.
However, visitors to the ceremony were soon blessed. Increasingly, one hears not only Merritt’s unique vocals, which is repeatedly contrasted with the voice of soprano Shirley Sim, but also the audience sings. For example, the beautiful “Papa was a Rodeo” sounds sobbing, the infinitely sad, and the whole hall joins in. These are the moments when you notice: magnetic fields may mean nothing to the very many people on the planet, but more to the few.
“69 Love Songs” – the group’s most popular album
Above all, songs from the more than twenty-year cycle of “69 Love Songs”, the band’s most famous masterpiece, were received with enthusiasm. The record is a triple album, an extremely rare format that has a questionable reputation for being unsaleable. As the title suggests, it has 69 songs on the wonderful theme of love.
The sheer abundance of very different numbers, ranging in style from country to jazz to folk, is comparable to no less than the Beatles’ “White Album”. Even the gesture that is rather too much is similar. Like the Fab Four, Merritt seems to be saying with this recording: There’s a lot more possible in pop music, a lot more than you thought, let me show you. And only 69 times in a row.
The Beatles were known to have a good sense of humor, and Merritt could easily keep up with that. Just saying, “The next song is called the biggest boobs in history” sounds funny, and it’s even more hilarious when he sings about those biggest boobs of all time. A number with words announces that this is a piece of the Nine Eleven and at the same time a Christmas carol. He dedicated a song to shock rocker Alice Cooper, it’s over after about four seconds.
Stephen Merritt is a gay singer and songwriter. You still hear about straight people who discover his “69 Love Songs”, completely lose themselves in it, pass the album on to their loved ones like a treasure, and later realize that, from a strange perspective, this is perhaps the most important topic in human history that has been completely dismissed.
Most of the audience on Lido knows what’s going on and it’s obviously weird, many gay and lesbian couples looking deep into each other’s eyes during the concert. But a lot of them also stand alone, and it is clear that they also came about because of love. The love for these popular songs is on the verge of perfection. Andrew Hartman
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