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Originally published March 20, 2012 at 10:56 AM | Page modified March 21, 2012 at 8:23 AM

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Movie review

The Magnetic Fields charm Neptune crowd

Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields charmed their audience Monday with songs both old and new at Seattle's Neptune Theatre. The band performs a second show Tuesday.

Seattle Times arts writer

Additional performances

The Magnetic Fields

8 p.m. Tuesday, Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $30-$32 (877-784-4849 or
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Concert Review |

Stephin Merritt and his band the Magnetic Fields dug deep into their catalog Monday night, in the first of two shows at Seattle's Neptune Theatre.

They went back to their debut album, "Distant Plastic Trees," for a country-flavored item, "Tar-Heel Boy." They had fun with new numbers about horrible parties, revenge fantasies and dreams of escape, all from their latest release, "Love at the Bottom of the Sea."

Best of all, they revived some of the loveliest, wittiest tunes from their 1999 masterpiece, "69 Love Songs."

"Busby Berkeley Dreams," "Come Back from San Francisco," "Grand Canyon" — all wry tales of heartbreak — got fine readings by Merritt, sometimes in new arrangements that brought out their poignant flair all the better.

Singer-pianist Claudia Gonson revived Merritt's "Reno Dakota" and Shirley Simms — who's joined the quartet on its last three albums — lent her homespun vocals to Merritt's "It's Only Time" and "Drive On, Driver." The latter is a tune from the band's wackily electro-distorted 2008 CD (titled, aptly enough, "Distortion"), and it sounded far better in an acoustic setting.

Gonson, battling a cold, looked dressed as if for a trip to Russia and had occasional vocal troubles. Merritt, both dapper and dour, had an occasional frog in his throat, too (then again, that's half his vocal style). Guitarist John Woo and cellist Sam Davol, still looking like grad students after all these years, gave thoughtful, measured backup to song after song.

Woo's slide-guitar touch as Merritt sang "The Book of Love" was a special treat.

The song's lyrical undercutting of its beautiful tune worked as well as ever:

The Book of Love has music in it.

In fact, that's where music comes from.

Some of it's just transcendental,

Some of it's just really dumb.

But I — I love it when you sing to me.

And you — you can sing me anything.

A charmed audience, quietly singing along, clearly felt the same way about Merritt, as he gave them the evening's finest moment.

Michael Upchurch:

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