As I made my way to the gig, I had all my puns lined up in advance for this review. I would comment on how attractive the band were; how they were poles apart from the competition; but, finally, how I and my friends had decided they were “not for us” (not ferrous – get it?). Kerching! And I’ll have fries with that too please. An easy 600 words and no mistake. Little did I know that it would be less straightforward.
Having been distinctly underwhelmed by their first album On Your Side, which highlighted a clinically accomplished songwriting talent with no bite, no soul and very little to distinguish it from the pack of bleeding hearts churning out songs of sorrow for an audience of fragile human beings, I was not expecting much. A few self-conscious Radiohead-esque bleeps here, a little lost-boy chic there. As he found his way onstage, Evan Johansen (who is Magnet to all intents and purposes) seemed predictably intimidated by the size of the audience, wondering aloud if we had muddled him up with James Blunt and how he suspected a large number of record company people were swelling the ranks. He might have been right. Industry interest in this young man is growing, as it is in other late twenty-something new men who appeal to thirty-something women who are a sucker for a man with his heart on his sleeve, and secretly wish they’d met Chris Martin before Gwyneth did.
His band shuffled on to the tiny stage behind him, all haircuts and weird beards, closely followed by the songs, which crept, snuffling and sobbing, out of the screechy 93 Feet East PA system. Soon after he had blown his load on the third song with his not-very-different-to-the-original version of Dylan‘s Lay Lady Lay, the gig seemed to be rapidly drifting away from him. Halfway through the twelve song set, he timidly tried to shush the assembled hacks gathered at the bar and at the back who had begun to prefer their own conversation to yet another song about how broken hearted he was. Indeed, my own initial curiosity had worn off and I left my position in front of the stage to wander a few feet back to begin a conversation myself. Johansen seemed to be losing it.
Then, just as I least expected it, the polarity switched. New song Hold On from second album The Tourniquet rocked up, and finally, after half an hour of meandering around, blew the roof off the dump. Magnet gained some self-confidence, began pulling his audience back and, before anyone knew it, had them in his command. Dutifully, they sat when asked to for a song with a quiet beginning (take your pick, really). Silently they listened to the one encore song, a version of Nothing Hurts Now that turned the bland first album track into the most soulful and moving song of the evening.
Johansen acts like he’s afraid of all the attention he’s getting. He needs to learn to relax and enjoy it. He could be on the verge of greatness. And crucially, despite the evidence of On Your Side, he has a fantastic voice – when he has the courage to use it. It’s not a winsome, nasally falsetto of a Blunt – it’s the raw, fulsome growl of a weather-beaten mongrel. If there’s more of this on The Tourniquet and more to Magnet than just boring everyone by sobbing quietly to himself then he has a good chance of being able to turn all of his negatives into positives.