Alex Ebert sure does like to reinvent himself. First a rapper, then the flamboyant front man for the goofy post-glam Ima Robot, Ebert has reformed himself once again—this time as the messianic mastermind behind Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. In the persona of Edward Sharpe, he presides over a dedicated troupe of musicians/followers who create alternately sentimental and moody rock reminiscent of 60s hippie-folk and Ennio Morricone film scores.
The band’s excellent debut album, Up From Below, came out a scant few months ago, but the crowd at the Belly Up Tavern had done their homework. The reverent fans packed the venue on an uncharacteristically busy Tuesday night, holding hands and singing along to every word.
Dressed all in white like a modern-day Jesus, the sinewy singer began the set with Up From Below’s title track, leading the crowd in what would be the first of many sing-alongs. Next came a slowed-down version of “Janglin’”, one of the highlights on an album bursting with strong tracks, and then “Black Water”, a waltz graced with the swaying mystique that elevates so many of their songs beyond the considerable sums of their parts.
The band also impressed with “40 Day Dream”, Up From Below’s pulsing opener, and “Carries On”, a mournful tune that oscillates exquisitely between its melancholy verse and cathartic chorus. When not bounding about the stage during songs like the falsetto-spiked “I Come In Please”, Ebert sat on the monitors, conversing with the crowd and grasping their hands like a benevolent Charlie Manson.
Despite the crowd’s enthusiasm, the band’s confidence seemed to wane as the night went on. Ebert in particular seemed shaken by the intensity of the audience, and the lanky minstrel repeatedly admitted to forgetting his lyrics. It was also at times a struggle to hear Ebert’s vocals above the overwhelming sound of his eight-piece band—as is often the case with large groups—but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. Though the performance had its flaws, to critique Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ set would be to miss the point. Their performance was so steeped in good feeling—a sentiment the crowd was only too happy to reciprocate—that to focus on technical shortcomings would be to nitpick.
No song evidenced that sense of unabashed affection more than “Home”, Ebert’s triumphant duet with band member/love interest Jade Castrinos, and the best song released by any band this year. Essentially a one-upping profession of love between Ebert and Castrinos, the irresistible song employs everything from nonchalant whistling to epic trumpet as it barrels toward its catchy, breathtaking chorus. The doe-eyed Castrinos, looking like a tomboy Audrey Hepburn with her short hair, vintage clothes, and innocent charm, positively beamed at Ebert throughout the song. Either the two of them share the greatest love two people have ever been known to share, or they’re really good at faking it.
The band packed their best songs into the beginning of the night, which made for a terrific opening but also left the set feeling top-heavy. Returning to the stage for an encore with only his guitarist in tow, Ebert extended an open invitation for people to sit with him on stage. The ladies in the crowd were all too happy to oblige, swarming around the pair as they performed the acoustic “Brother”. But the night came to an anti-climactic finish as Ebert, ever the good sport, invited the people on stage to sing their own songs. The impromptu open-mic quickly lost all focus and the night limped to a close.
But, while it lasted, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros had the devoted attendees wrapped around their collective finger in one of the most exhilarating performances in recent memory. And, with a response as strong as the one he got from the Belly Up crowd, it’s doubtful that Ebert will feel the need to reinvent himself again any time soon.