Spare but touching, playful yet perched oh-so-formally on chairs with music and notes on hand, accomplished and unafraid of the occasional sour or dissonant note. Yep, that’s the Magnetic Fields.
The ensemble had the sold-out mob in their precious paws on Feb. 27 at Fox Theater -- from opener “Lindy-Lou,” off the 6th’s Hyacinths and Thistles to “Falling in Love with the Wolfboy” to a haunting version of “Acoustic Guitar.” “Yes,” yowled one fan when the group announced “I Don’t Want to Get Over You.” Even the group's "B" set (the "A" set list will be performed at the March 1 Herbst show) was, as Claudia Gonson put it, teeming with "awesomeness."
The combo could do no wrong -- magnetism worked in its favor, though you got the impression that the band was still working out the kinks, still psychically at the start of their tour. They were a bit casual, a bit messy -- Stephin Merritt sticking to ukulele and Gonson pointing up helpfully when she’d try and miss that exact right high note.
Overall it was lesser-known player Shirley Simms on autoharp and sweet, sweet vocals that particularly plucked at audience heartstrings. Meanwhile guitarist John Woo and cellist Sam Davol kept it the melodies in line admirably, and Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler lurked in the deep background, on squeezing out small, subtle textures on the accordion.
And why pick any nits when the songs’ sheer wit were capable of withered all reservations away. Off-key instances, off-kilter jokes about child prostitution, and such wonderfully right-on songs -- in the end, the pleasure was ours, warts and all.