The show was a lot more like a recital than a rock and roll concert. All acoustic instruments, all players seated. From house left to house right they were:
Shirley Simms (vocals only)
Claudia Gonson (piano & vocals)
John Woo (guitar)
Sam Davol (cello)
Stephin Merritt (bouzouki & vocals)
Gonson did most of the talking, and she did it in this very spacey, random, funny persona, which she blamed on lack of oxygen. Merritt threw in the occasional deadpan remark. There was quite a bit of talking between the songs, which I enjoyed very much. A dominant theme was the invention of narrative connections among the songs in the setlist -- for instance, after "The Nun's Litany": "And why did she enter the abbey? Well, you see, one year earlier..." leading to "All My Little Words." There was also quite a bit of comedy interplay, like so:
GONSON: This next song is about Stephin's dog, whose ears are... huge. They're like... they're as big as his head. Would you agree, Stephin?
MERRITT: His ears are *part* of his head.
GONSON: Yeah, but... you know what I... well anyway, it's called "Walking My Gargoyle." One, two, three, four...
For the rest of the show, chihuahua references ensued. "Let's pretend the narrator of this song is also a chihuaha! All the characters are chihuahuas -- then it could be made into a number one movie. Maybe if they remade Pieces Of April with an all-chihuahua cast..." (Merritt did the soundtrack for Pieces Of April, the mention of which also led to much musing on what Oliver Platt is doing these days. Quoth Merritt: "One of the worst things about being on tour is that sometimes you want to look something up on IMDb, but you can't, because you're on stage!")
Even though their new album is all heavy distortion (hence its title) and fuzz, everything sounded totally clean at the concert. It was beautiful. All the cleverness was out there to shine, and the sad and lovely parts were heart-piercing. Apparently Merritt suffers from hyperacuity in his left ear, meaning he's quite sensitive to certain frequencies, including applause. I could see him hold his ear whenever the clapping began, and he kept slipping a silver earplug in and out, including the time when Gonson was rambling to him about some topic, and after a couple of minutes he pulled out his earplug and said, "What?"
The set list was great too -- a healthy mix of old and new, Mag Fields and side bands (Gothic Archies, 6ths, etc). I was thrilled to have some of my all-time favorites included -- "No One Will Ever Love You"; "Yeah! Oh Yeah!"; "Drive On, Driver"; "Grand Canyon"; "The Book Of Love."
All in all, a very good time was had by me. Too bad I had to go to work the next day when I should really have been sleeping!