by carl wilson

Some of it is just transcendental, some of it is just really dumb

Before posting a few remarks on the weekend's Mag. Fields concert, I should mention that I saw the trailer for the Hollywood remake of Masayuki Suo's Shall We Dance (with, gag, Richard Gere and J-Lo) before Farenheit 9/11 last night, and the theme song turns out to be The Book of Love from 69 Love Songs as covered by Peter Gabriel and some Celtic-sounding warbleress. The song is all Gabriel Yared-ed up to the point that I thought it was Sting, which is a horrible thing to have to say about a song that's possibly Merritt's greatest. (It was played on banjo by a close friend at my wedding, so I take this shit personal.)


I'm a fan of a lot of Gabriel's stuff, and Merritt must be too (Gabriel's even made at least one cameo appearance in a MF show), but as it sounded in the theatre, this recording goes in the Worst Covers of Best Songs annals. And given how long I've been advocating that pop singers start covering his tunes, this was a real careful-what-you-wish-for face-slap.

Book of Love was one of the obvious highlights of the band's show at Trinity St-Paul's Church on Friday, along with Papa Was a Rodeo and other classics and obscurities. The set list didn't reach any further back than the disc before 69LS, with Smoke & Mirrors from Get Lost, but neither was it a rote run-through of the new album. The church was sweltering on a beautiful summer day, and the band made comic hay of that all evening, mostly with Stephin pulling various stage business to upstage Claudia when she had solo numbers - first he went off stage and dragged an electric fan in (afterwards making obvious "fan" puns - "we like to bring at least one fan up on stage in every show") and later handed out glasses of water to the front rows, again while she performed. Wonder if she minds? In any case, that schtick led to the night's best line, after an audience member shouted out "How about some beer next time?": "You can't bring alcohol into a church," Merritt deadpanned. "It only turns into blood."

The other notable comedy of the night was a very charming mime by Claudia and Stephin to Yeah Oh Yeah!, making the wife-killing musical farce seem a little like an episode of Donnie and Marie. (No link. If you don't know what I mean, count yourself fortunate.)

That aside, three main points:

1. If a meteor had hit the church, Toronto's optometrists would have lost half their business. (Just half, because there was another show the next night.) Spectacle City, no Debord reference intended, though most people in that audience would have gotten it if somebody made one. I love my fellow geeks, but I missed the rest of the human race.

2. This show made me like i better, though that's partly because they didn't play that fucking operetta song. Outside the context of an album, and the expectations one brings to that, and the actual lack of variety of this album's supposed "variety show," many of the new songs stood up respectably among their elders. They're funny and pretty. I was left singing I Die and All Over Town to myself afterwards, for instance. Even though I'd still rather hear the Chinese opera.

3. Stephin's hearing problem is very severe indeed. This was the quietest concert I've ever been to that wasn't some sort of electro-acoustic-improvisational experiment in deliberate quietness. It verged on unamplified, and the songs did suffer by it, though the quality of concentration it demanded from the audience was a pleasure to be immersed in.

At one point Claudia wondered why no one ever laughs at the line "'Cause I've read your horoscope/ And now I've given up all hope" in I Don't Really Love You Anymore and somebody yelled out, accurately, "Because we couldn't hear it!" (She didn't seem to catch that.) (Incidentally I disagree with Alistair about the laughter, though not about much else: It seems not only possible but ideal to laugh aloud in recognition of the cleverness and perfection of Merritt's lines while feeling the ruefulness and pain with the other chambers of your heart.)

Much worse than the mere quiet was watching Stephin wince and put his hands over his ears every time the crowd applauded. (Which explained his cryptic remark early in the show, "You don't have to applaud before the songs too.") The sight tore me up, and I resorted to tapping my hands together lightly instead, in a vain attempt to ease his discomfort. Merritt's live-show days may be in the short numbers. A shame, as he is a pleasure to share a room with, but this hushed acoustic context is way too Live at Lincoln Centre or Vinyl Cafe/Prairie Home Campanion, the craft too foregrounded (end rather than means) and the trash-culture content way too low. (Not that everybody needs trash, but Merritt is Mr. High-Low - that used to be one of his superpowers.) (Also: Maybe everybody does need trash.)

And then I gave him two standing ovations. Because, I don't care, he's still a fucking genius.

Read More | Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 06 at 7:45 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)



i know that t.o. torchster patricia o'callaghan covers "book of love" (though i haven't heard it, and don't know if it's all celtified children's choirs... somehow i doubt it).
i too had the pleasure of witnessing that song used as the first dance at a wedding (sadly, not my own...yet; although i was dj'ing the one in question)
i'm waiting for the "i touch roses" band to take their own crack at it.

Posted by barclay on July 8, 2004 10:26 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson