Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mark Eitzel & Stephin Merritt play final Merge 25 show

Stephin Merritt at XX Merge in 2009
Photo by Kevin Norris
Even though Neutral Milk Hotel wrapped the big four-day Merge 25 festival on Saturday night, there was still one more anniversary show on the schedule which brought two phenomenal singer-songwriters to Baldwin Auditorium, Stephin Merritt and Mark Eitzel.

Eitzel was up first and got off to a rocky start when he reached the stage, started setting up his tuner and cables and he realized he had left his guitar downstairs. While his pedal steel player ran down to get it, he was awkward but charming as he talked to the crowd.

His banter between songs is worth the ticket price alone whether he's funny purpose or it's just coincidental, but when he sings he has the soulful, weary voice that could move mountains. Throughout his set he tried out a few new songs as well as some songs from his catalog. The jaunty song "Klamath" was played towards the end of the set and allowed Eitzel to try out his crooner skills as he abandoned his guitar which has issues staying in tune all night.

The set ended with an unreleased song called "I Spent the Last Ten Years Trying to Waste Half an Hour" which he said in a recent interview he started writing in the early 90s but only recently finished it. It was an entertaining set with incredible stories both in song form and between songs. If you have a chance to see Eitzel live, it's well worth your time and money.

Next up, after the audience was evacuated for a rogue fire alarm in the basement, came the legendary curmudgeon that is Stephin Merritt. Armed with an eight-string ukulele, his signature baritone, green camouflage shorts, and a kazoo in his breast pocket, Merritt kicked things off with "Andrew in Drag" followed by the classic "The Book of Love." About five songs in he commented that any audience members with Asperger's may have noticed that his set list was in alphabetical order before playing "100,000 Fireflies."

The set included a lot of deep cuts including "The Dead Only Quickly" recorded with The 6ths, "One Long Fairytale" from Merritt's music for the off-Broadway musical Coraline, "Shipwrecked" recorded with The Gothic Archies and even "The Ugly Little Duck" from his 2006 collection Showtunes.

Merritt started up a metronome to play the song "Quick!" from The Magnetic Fields' latest album Love at the Bottom of the Sea seemingly to track the pauses in the song though he repeatedly rushed the tempo throughout. It didn't really matter though because it's a great song.

One of my favorite Magnetic Fields' songs closed the set, the cheeky "Your Girlfriend's Face." As he approached the end of the song he repeated the refrain as he slowly walked towards the stage door an backed through it. It was such a simple yet brilliant end to the set.

After only a few moments Merritt returned to the stage and continued his alphabetical set by closing with The Magnetic Fields' "Zombie Boy." As always, Merritt does what he wants, how he wants to do it and we just have to sit back and enjoy the brilliance of it and that's just fine.

Stephin Merritt set list
Andrew in Drag
The Book of Love
The Dead Only Quickly
Epitaph for My Heart
Forever and a Day
100,000 Fireflies
I Looked All Over Town
Kiss Me Like You Mean It
Love is Like a Bottle of Gin
The Nun's Litany
One Long Fairytale
A Pretty Girl Is Like...
The Little Ukulele
The Ugly Little Duck
Xylophone Track
Your Girlfriend's Face
Zombie Boy

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