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Turn Cell Phones Off and Ears On; At the 9:30 Club, Magnetic Fields Generates an Aura of Rapt Attention
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Popular music; Musical performances -- Magnetic Fields
Author: Segal, David
Date: Apr 16, 2001
Start Page: C.01
Section: STYLE

Credit this outbreak of manners to the awe inspired and demanded by Stephin Merritt, the songwriter, rhythm guitar player and sometime vocalist of Magnetic Fields. Modern pop heroes don't come much odder than Merritt, who tiptoed onstage with his eyes trained downward, as though fretting that someone would recognize him and start clapping. He smiled exactly once, as he smoothed his cowlick. Everything about his body language -- he sat on a stool, chain-smoked and barely acknowledged the audience -- pleaded for quiet.

"There's a reason they have curtains in proscenium stages," Merritt grumbled as he settled on his stool for the start of the show. It wasn't exactly "Washington, get ready to rock!" but it neatly suggested the rules for the evening. A New Yorker who radiates coffeehouse angst, Merritt has perfected a sort of anti-charisma that conveys almost nothing of his personality, except aloofness and a hint of irritation.

Merritt's deftness with wry and well-timed couplets surpasses that of just about every other pop star working these days. (One notable exception: the rapper Eminem, Merritt's opposite in every regard except for a shared gift for language and role playing.)

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