A Day In The Life - Outkast and Magnetic Fields live in NYC
Thousands of people filed into Bryant Park Friday for a free concert by Outkast – no shock in midtown – but considering an alleged starting time of 7 a.m., interminable pep talks from stagehands, and just a two song, ten minute payoff, the dedication of the audience impressed.
Good Morning America arranged and televised the show, which was carefully scripted for broadcast. Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson riffed on being too old to understand kids nowadays, warming up the crowd with fogyisms like "How many of you can do Hey Ya?," and "Now is the time to do your stuff!"
Some spectacles occurred outside the park before the program. For instance a man, double-parked and slimy, produced several boxes of generic stuffed animal toys from his van, offering them gratis to nonplussed preteens (opinion leaders). Should one of them hand their toy to Outkast on live television, he confidently promised a bounty of $300. Failing that, the toys could be sold "on the internet" for "as much as $100." (An estimate about $95 too high, eBay confirms.) Others trafficked in posters for a soap opera Web site and a pet store but, in an amusing display, each and every piece of free advertising contraband had to be trashed on the way in.
[Dusted had some trouble entering the press pit, domain of freelance photographers peddling for the Globe and Daily News, and owe thanks to a representative from ABC who made an unusual exception at the last minute.]
Big Boi performed "The Way You Move" first, accompanied by a crew of young dancers and a horn section fitted with black karate uniforms. Having gone through the motions, some 10 to 15 performers struck the exceedingly complex set and darted off stage.
Dre then lip-synched "Roses," whose attenuated chorus was dutifully returned to its pre-radio edit by fans. Dre's dancers wore powder blue uniforms emblazoned with a Love Below logo, and one of them munched inexplicably on the contents of a bag of potato chips. Rounding out the ensemble, a girl in 1950s prep school garb shook and shivered towards 42nd Street. At the end of the song, Big Boi's dancers came back on stage to squabble with Dre's, in a genuinely chaotic segment punctuated by the use of breakaway bottles and everyone falling down.
Stage overflowing, GMA's hosts returned for an interview. Did Outkast really begin in a school cafeteria? Could they please comment on one being a vegetarian and the other a steak-eater? The stage emptied, the loudspeakers issued a farewell "Hey Ya," and the crowd left the park to mingle with brisk suits on Sixth Avenue. We had stayed up all night.
Next, the workday lasted nine hours.
Then Magnetic Fields at Town Hall.
Opening act Andrew Bird looked tiny on an enormous stage, but his set was robust enough to make you forget it. With a sweetly reverbed Gibson and a violin amply mastered, Bird played and plucked layers into a memorizing pedal that looped a few bars repeatedly. On top he whistled and sang, both of which skills were no joke, tunes that made the layers into songs. Those songs were dramatic, country-inflected ballads, precisely structured but not pop by any means. There may have been lyrical references to Must-See TV and to Thomas Pynchon, although it is equally likely that neither subject was addressed.
Magnetic Fields were overmind Stephen Merritt, pianist and public face Claudia Gonson, guitarist/banjoist John Woo, and cellist Sam Davol. Nearly half the set was banter, but funny banter, Gonson good-naturedly bemoaning the minutiae of touring and Merritt getting affably cranky.
Including the encore, there were 24 songs, most short. Merritt hid behind a Yankees cap for all but a few, forlornly playing the ukelele. Woo and Davol were as usual note-perfect, leaving Gonson the chance to charm with a slightly flat note now and then. The new album, i, was played almost in its entirety (including a subtler version of the Human League-like "I Thought You were My Boyfriend").
The best part of the show was "Yeah! Oh Yeah," of 69 Love Songs, during which Gonson and Merritt waltzed around stage, she as the plaintive supplicating ex and he as the merciless husband who would sooner kill than be henpecked. The song animated Merritt, brought him out of his chair and usual vocal range, and gave the whole set more variety.
The band has toured without synthesizers for many years, so it was not a strikingly different show than those they've played in the past. The best songs of the set, including "I Don't Believe You," "Papa Was a Rodeo," "It's Only Time," and "Yeah! Oh Yeah" hold up fine without the safety net of the studio. If the Magnetic Fields can be accused of writing a lot of filler, they must also be given credit for having a substantial repertoire of consummate love songs, with lyrics worth hearing a few times and melodies that don't need thick arrangements to stand up.
By Ben Tausig