Stephin Merritt covered the ABCs of his musical past Friday night at the Cedar Cultural Center; a stop on his solo acoustic U.S. tour. The multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and musician-of-all-trades was stripped down to just his voice and his ukulele, accompanied by long-time bandmate Sam Davol on cello. Merritt played a full 26-song set, one song for each letter of the alphabet, of songs that were bleak and dark, yet playful and comical.
Merritt has led many musical groups including the 6ths, the Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes, and his most well-known band, the Magnetic Fields. The Magnetic Fields were formed over two decades ago, and began as Merritt’s studio project. The majority of the songs Merritt played were the Magnetic Fields’, with a select few culled from his other projects.
He set started off his set with “Andrew in Drag” followed by “The Book of Love” and continued through the A to Z song list. In 2004, Merritt released i with the Magnetic Fields: an album that had every song title starting with the letter “I.” “So we can only do one of those songs,” he noted and then played “I Wish I Had an Evil Twin.” The crowd agreed with this choice.
Merritt had a limited amount of banter, and was quick to begin each song. Halfway through his set, Merritt announced “my tuner is on the friz.” He ripped the tuner off the top of his ukelele and threw it over his shoulder, and continued on to his next song.
The venue was packed, with almost every seat filled and people standing, bordering the seated area. Other than a roar of clapping after each song, the venue was so quiet during the famously noise-averse Merritt’s set that you could hear some in the audience shift in their chairs. With nothing but silence coming from the audience, at times you forgot there were others around out, making you feel as though Merritt’s room-shaking baritone voice was just being heard by you.
Wrapping his set up with “Your Girlfriend’s Face” and coyly walking off stage, Merritt came back up to encore with “Zombie Boy” (which “isn’t violent, because he’s already dead”). The crowd rose to a standing ovation as Merritt walked off stage.
Advanced Based, formerly of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, opened the show with a simlarly playful yet dark songwriting style.
Andrew in Drag
The Book of Love
A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off
The Dead Only Quickly
Epitaph for My Heart
Forever and a Day
Give Me Back My Dreams
I Wish I Had an Evil Twin
Kiss Me Like You Mean It
Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin
My Husband’s Pied-A-Terre
The Nun’s Litany
One Long Fairytale
A Pretty Girl Is Like…
This Little Ukulele
The Ugly Little Duck
The World Is a Disco Ball
Your Girlfriend’s Face
Above: Advanced Base. Below: Stephin Merritt.
Bridget Bennett is a student at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.