Ultramagnetic Fields

Nashville’s music scene was really kicking ass in the late 90’s. For a while, there was a huge gap between small venues like Lucy’s Record Shop and larger venues, but then some genius decided to start throwing indie rock shows at Victor/Victoria’s, Nashville’s one and only drag bar. The first show I saw at Victor/Victoria’s was Lambchop with Magnetic Fields. It was ’97, so I would have been the svelte 20 year old with a full head of blond hair and an iconic pair of Buddy Holly glasses.

The clubs modest front door was an interesting contrast for the secret within. Most of the smaller clubs used christmas lights as year round decorations, but every inch of ceiling at V/V’s was covered with christmas tree lights and mirrored disco balls. As I walked through the bar a tall black man with a HUGE blond beehive wig and red ruby heels walked up to me and “Mmmm… fresh meat.” The jukebox was filled with Village People and Madonna records. Even though I was there an hour before show time, the area around the stage was already filling up with indie rock boys and girls. I remember thinking it was the only rock stage I had ever seen with a cat walk.

I had never heard the Magnetic Fields before, but my friend Andy told me not to miss them. They took the stage an hour late and as they started plugging in their instruments the lead singer, Stephen Merrit, complained about the blinking lights to the sound man in the back of the club. He waited a bit, blocking the lights with his hands, then spoke into the mic again with his baritone voice “Fucking seriously, turn the fucking blinking lights off.” The room went silent during for a few seconds, but when the blinking lights suddenly got more intense, a few of us laughed. Merrit didn’t wasn’t laughing though, in fact he stormed off the stage and through the crowd.

We sat on the floor waiting for him to return. 20 or 30 minutes later he passed through the crowd again and took the stage. “I’m fucking epileptic.” he boomed in to the mic… then the band started playing. They opened with All The Umbrellas In London, a fantastic song, and my heart was won over. It was one of those special performances were everyone in the crowd was captivated. The band took turns switching up instruments, but mostly consisted of piano, cello, drums, mandolin, and guitar.

I loved the music so much that the next day I bought both of their available albums from Lucy’s Record Shop along with a 7″ single of All The Umbrellas. What I didn’t know was that Magnetic Fields were an electronic band and that last night’s performance had been a special acoustic show. I was heartbroken and lied to. What I had heard on stage was, to me, a new music. It was a sound I kept searching for for many many years in record stores and even with my own live bands. I hated those albums, but loved the songs, so when friends kept telling me I needed to listen to Magnetic Fields’ new albums I just scoffed. I rediscovered them many years after their album “I” was released. I remember hearing it for the first time and being instantly transported back to that summer night in ’97 when I 1st heard this new sound coming from a low voiced auteur in a drag bar in downtown Nashville.

Thanks to my friend Reed, I’ll be going to see Magnetic Fields tonight. It will be the first time I’ve seen them since that fantastic show 13 years ago.