Friday, 26 March 2010

Review: Magnetic Fields / Manchester Cathedral & Thee Silver Mt. Zion / Academy 3

A weekend of gigs, a weekend of music. Let's do this chronologically and start with the Magnetic Fields, whose extended set at Manchester Cathedral on Friday night included highlights from throughout their near 20 year career.

This was a pitch-perfect evening rendered all the more glorious (and, at times ironic: "I want to be a dominatrix / which isn't like me, but I can dream / learn S, and M, / and all those gay tricks / and men will pay me to / make them scream" - The Nun's Litany) by the austere yet intensely atmospheric interior of the cathedral. Consider also, that Magnetic Fields, and particularly Stephin Merritt, revel in sexual ambiguity and only the blackest humour, and the incongruity between venue and artist becomes all the more pleasing.

Singing over his band's paired-down yet beautiful musical backdrop of acoustic guitar, cello, mandola, basic percussion and occassional piano, Merrit's incredibly deep voice resonated and bombinated whilst the man himself retained his trademark cool, laconic delivery, his artful words depositing little droppings of humour and insight throughout the audience, causing occassional chuckles, uproarious laughter and quiet whispers of appreciation.

The band themselves were entirely faultless for the duration of the performance; my only minor gripe is reserved for the sound, which was perhaps a little on the quiet side. This may be a result of Merritt's well-documented hearing condition, or perhaps the sound-engineers decided to rely more on the cathedral's natural acoustics than electronic amplification, however as people began to move around the band began to look more like a sideshow than a main event.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion

Someone, someone like me, with little knowledge of Thee Silver Mt. Zion's recorded output since their debut He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms… would be forgiven for thinking that, as a live prospect, there was a strong possibility that Efrim Menuck's Godspeed side project (and now main project, or so it would seem) would be a meditative, restrained affair - perhaps even a little dull.

That someone would be sorely mistaken: Silver Mt. Zion began their set by blasting through parts one and two of 'I Built Myself a Metal Bird I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds', an incredible punk tune that kicks off with a bristling, distorted violin riff and sustains an exhilirating pace, climaxing with Efrim screaming "Dance Motherfucker!" - not what I was expecting.

Elsewhere we were treated to dark squalls of distortion and deep dual violin riffs, all topped off by Menuck's odd singing voice, which falls somewhere between mockney punk and half-cracked indie whining, but just about stays the right side of 'god, that's annoying'.

Menuck's on-stage persona (or perhaps it's really him?) was equally pleasing, and surprising, as he flitted wildly between the kind of apocalyptic anti-capitalist rants last heard in the background of a Godspeed album and the assertion that the band carried Bono around in a box, letting him out only to piss and shit. Heckling was invited, positively encouraged as it says on the band's website, and the Manchester crowd didn't hold back - a personal favourite of mine was when, after another 15 minute opus ground to a halt, some bright spark shouted "Is the next one gonna be a short one?"

Well, it was funny at the time anyway.

Words: James Roome
Images: Magnetic Fields image courtesy of alterna2 on Flickr / Silver Mt. Zion Image courtesy of: joshtrix on Flickr

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