Damon & Naomi
with the Magnetic Fields
Red Star, Tampa • July 30th, 1998
Michael D. Fellows
This had to be one of my most anticipated concert events of this year. You see, Damon & Naomi and the Magnetic Fields don’t tour much, and this was the first time ever that they happened to be touring in Florida. They were afraid that no one would show up, and that this state was dead as far as intelligent music connoisseurs. They were thankfully wrong. The new hip and plush club/former church called Red Star was packed to the gills with people who knew that this was to be a special evening. The club has a very small stage on the second floor, with plenty of couches so you can lounge and relax whilst listening to the show. This choice of seating was very appropriate for tonight’s double bill. You could get close to your honey and just close your eyes while under the spell of Stephin, Damon and Naomi.
Mr. Stephin Merritt, founder of the Magnetic Fields and such off-shoots as the 6ths and the Future Bible Heroes, came on stage with a backpack and a baseball hat on. He was supported by the lovely Claudia Gonson on keyboards and vocals, John Woo on the understated banjo, and Sam Devol on the flowing cello. For those of you who as of yet do not know of the Magnetic Fields, Stephin Merritt sounds a little like Lou Reed, a very low voice, which matches and complements the cello exactly. His main influence is ABBA. He knows quite well how to construct a cute melody, which is in deep contrast to the dismal lyrics hidden underneath. There was no drummer. This was music that was meant to be taken in and held, not just devoured instantly. Some songs were just dorky love songs, while others were orchestral ditties with country flourishes. He once forgot the opening chords of one song and went into a impromptu rendition of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” Stephin is a master of camp, and therefore an acquired taste. But for a fan that has loved him since 1986, this was a long overdue performance. His new album (due in the spring) will be called 69 Love Songs. Which means what it says, sixty nine songs all about love. Very Stephin.
Damon & Naomi, who are former members of the band Galaxie 500, are people who are not of this earth or in the music business scene. They are a husband and wife team that love music and old rhythms but not the trappings of commercialism and next big thing status. Some say it’s just crap folk music that just meanders and goes nowhere. But hearing them play live for the first time was truly some of the best 45 minutes of my truly bland existence. Damon was on his acoustic and Naomi was on her acoustic bass and harmonium. Both sing like angels. They played mostly from their new album, Playback Singers, which was recorded at their home in Boston with no producer to interfere. Opening with the new song “The Navigator,” the crowd was in awe of the immaculateness and pureness of the music coming forth from their lips. They played the first song they wrote as a duo, “Into the Sun,” and many more songs from their other albums, More Sad Hits and The Wondrous World of Damon & Naomi, such as “New York City” and “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington.” It was a perfect end to a very relaxing experience. I got to speak to both Damon & Naomi on the phone last month, and that interview will be in the October issue of Ink Nineteen, so keep your eyes peeled.