The Magnets – Gobsmacked! [FringeTIX]
The Magnets @ The Vagabond
3:00pm, Sat 18 Feb 2012
I’d forgotten that 35 degrees is pretty bloody hot – especially when you’re a tent like The Vagabond. I don’t know whether it lacks the air-conditioning of other venues in the Garden, or whether it was turned off to minimise aural disruption to the show, but it was like a sauna in there – especially since the staff were attempting to herd the audience into the pit at the centre of The Vagabond, rather than let them settle in the raised and raked seated sections. I spied a single seat in the front row, far stage left; bad move. I think I was cooked by the heat radiating off the raised section of the stage itself, but at least I was mollified by the knowledge that I was going to be in a great position to see the guys onstage deal with the heat.
With minimal fanfare, The Magnets open with a gorgeous sounding harmony between Stephen Trowell, Nicolas Doodson, James Fortune, and Michael Welton; Fraser Collins joins in, adding his wonderfully smooth bass, and then Andy Frost’s beatboxing kicks in… and they’re away, ploughing through straight covers (Blondie’s Call Me) to some clever mash-ups (Blur’s Girls And Boys gets a hint of Gorillaz’ Clint Eastwood (speaking of which, why has no-one done an a cappella version of 19-2000?), and there’s a curious Lenny Kravitz / Fatboy Slim pairing, too). The sextet pares down for my highlight, a wonderfully sparse All Shook Up. They cap off the show by giving the audience the option of an A-to-Z compendium of song snippets – today’s audience opted for the category of movies (as opposed to bands, unfortunately), and the boys rapid-fired through twenty-six movie-related song snippets before returning to The A-Team.
This is a stripped-down version of The Magnets’ full ninety-minute show, but it’s impossible to see the seams. On top of the sterling a cappella singing (and beatboxing), the boys accentuate their efforts with a well-choreographed set of boy-band moves; there’s a few little bits of audience interaction, too (the Call Me serenade went to a woman three seats from me). And, in terms of song choices, the only mis-step (in my opinion) was their attack on Livin’ On A Prayer – the arrangement, in comparison to other tunes, seemed perfunctory, the key change jarring. Having said that, their website indicates that the rendition is an audience favourite…
…and that’s part of the problem of me writing this post, I reckon. Because – and I want to be quite clear on this – I’m not being needlessly contrary when I say that I didn’t find The Magnets to be as appealing as everyone else in The Vagabond that afternoon. I felt there was a real two-sided split in the staging: it almost seemed like there was a distinct Rhythm Section (Fraser Collins “on” bass, and Andy Frost beatboxing) and The Harmonies (with key arranger Stephen Trowell a little taller than the other three) – and never the twain shall meet (except when Fraser pops in for some comedy bass-relief). And, despite the technical mastery that is on display, Frost’s beatbox solo is nowhere near as jaw-dropping as previous encounters with Tom Thum.
Don’t get me wrong – I thought this was a technically amazing performance. I can totally understand why some people may leave The Magnets convinced that they’d just seen the most brilliant show ever. I just wasn’t… y’know… moved. I gave myself every opportunity to like what was presented to me, but I just couldn’t feel it.
They are all bloody brilliant singers, though.