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THURSDAY & FRIDAY
Speaking as someone who has spent more time than he cares to admit jockeying the sandwich line in a nightclub kitchen: For the love of God, people, eat at home. Call me a purist, but it’s just not very rock ’n’ roll to sit and have a bite during the show. Then again, the Magnetic Fields couldn’t really be accused of ever having rocked, and lead misanthrope Stephin Merritt’s recent collaborations with Chinese opera director Chen Shi-Zheng betray more than a bit of his dramatic thrust (as did the very notion of 1999 triple-disc behemoth 69 Love Songs). So, if swapping the anemic Christmas lighting of the old Black Cat for the wood-paneled Americana of the Birchmere and its full kitchen service is a slap in the face of all things rock, then think of the Fields as dinner theater. An astonishingly prolific songwriter, Merritt rivals Ani DiFranco in the sheer volume of his musical output, but mercifully replaces the granola-flavored political treatises with a healthy dose of dour. Indie pop doesn’t get much better than 1994’s “Fear of Trains,” the tuneful cheerlessness of which set an impossibly high standard that Merritt keeps bettering. The Fields’ latest album, i, features 14 songs whose titles begin with the letter “I,” including “I Wish I Had an Evil Twin,” “Infinitely Late at Night,” and the charming “I Die.” Eschewing their usual fondness for whirling, plinking synths, Merritt and bandmates Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, and John Woo use only hand-played instruments on i, resulting in sound more organic than that of previous outings. The Magnetic Fields play with Darren Hanlon at 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, and Friday, Dec. 3, in the Birchmere’s Bandstand, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria. $22.50–$25. (202) 397-7328. (Chris Hagan)