Live music continues to make its slow return to NYC, including at City Winery, which started hosting shows again at its new Pier 57 location on April 2, when New York venues were given the okay to open, with restrictions. On Friday (4/16), The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt played two sets there. He was accompanied on cello by longtime collaborator and Magnetic Fields member Sam Davol, and for those who couldn’t attend in person, the second performance was livestreamed.

Before Merritt and Davol hit the stage, City Winery founder and CEO Michael Dorf welcomed the audience to the reduced-capacity venue, jokingly suggesting that they should not get so comfortable with the socially-distanced seating once the pandemic fully subsides and restrictions are lifted. He also talked about how thrilled he was to see music returning to New York City. This evening was my first visit to the new location, and it is spacious and beautiful. The western wall of the main room has floor-to-ceiling windows, offering a spectacular view of the Hudson River (but which is also obscured by a curtain during concerts). Most attendees were seated at tables on the main floor, with a smaller bunch up in the second floor balcony. With patrons masked, and tables well-spaced out, I felt quite comfortable as far as COVID safety goes, and I found the sound well-mixed and sight lines good no matter where I stood along the perimeter of the space.

Merritt’s 27 song, roughly 80 minute set (which was identical for both performances) focused largely on The Magnetic Fields’ discography, with songs from 69 Love Songs, 50 Song Memoir, and their latest LP, 2020’s Quickies. He also included a few tracks by side projects The 6ths and The Gothic Archies, and as well as solo material.

Merritt was his characteristically droll self, introducing each song with an anecdote or funny quip. Ahead of “The Book of Love,” he mentioned how Peter Gabriel had covered the song, which has paid Merritt well over the years, but bemoaned how now he gets asked to play the song at weddings, and that Danish children sing it in talent shows. He mostly switched off on using different ukuleles for the songs, with Davol’s cello supporting him, and an occasional drum beat supplied by a CR-5000. “Why do I have three ukuleles with me tonight?” he rhetorically asked the audience. “It’s because I couldn’t carry four.” Before concluding the evening with the song “Smile! No One Cares How You Feel,” Merritt announced there would be no encore “because the apocalypse is upon us.”

Check out pictures from the show, and the setlist, below.

photos and review by Ellen Qbertplaya

Setlist: The Magnetic Fields @ City Winery, 4/16/2021
1. The Day the Politicians Died
2. I Wish I Had Fangs and a Tail
3. Andrew In Drag
4. A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off
5. The Book Of Love
6. The Dead Only Quickly
7. Epitaph For My Heart
8. Give Me Back My Dreams
9. 100,000 Fireflies
10. I Wish I Had An Evil Twin
11. Josephine
12. I’ve Got A Date With Jesus
13. Love Is Like A Bottle Of Gin
14. The Nun’s Litany
15. One Long Fairytale
16. A Pretty Girl Is Like
17. ‘66 Wonder Where I’m From
18. Quick! 76BPM
19. Reno Dakota
20. (I Want To Join a) Biker Gang
21. This Little Ukulele
22. ‘02 Be True to Your Bar
23. Very Funny
24. Come, Life, Shaker Life!
25. Xylophone Track
26. ‘14 I Wish I Had Pictures
27. Smile! No One Cares How You Feel