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Jeff Moehlis: Edward Sharpe a Family Affair

A sold-out crowd at SOhO enjoys the band's timeless songs

Before the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros concert Wednesday night at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, my lovely wife and I had the pleasure of chatting on the balcony with band guitarist Christian Letts, who is also a talented painter, and drummer Josh Collazo, who is also a great jazz drummer.

The down-to-earth Letts and Collazo talked about Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros as if it was a family. This is certainly the image that one gets of the band, and it was cool to see that it seems genuine.

And it’s a big family, with about 10 band members playing at a given show. When I asked Letts how the band keeps its sound so uncluttered despite its size, he attributed it to the lack of ego among the musicians. They orbit around the music of the collective, rather than focusing on individual soloing.

Ladies and gentlemen — especially those of you who are jaded and cynical about the music of today, with marketing and promotion machines that churn out Auto-Tune-enhanced pop stars with dubious talent at best — take note. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are the real deal.

The band first performed in Santa Barbara (also at SOhO) last October as part of the New Noise Santa Barbara music conference. As a measure of their growing popularity, October’s concert sold out on the day of the show, and their concert on Wednesday night sold out weeks in advance.

In fact, sell-outs are becoming the norm for the band, including the tour-ending concert in December at the 1,750-or-so capacity Mayan Theater in their Los Angeles base — which I was fortunate to attend — to the shows on their upcoming Australia tour — which, sadly, I will not be attending.

Much of their popularity comes from the timelessness of their sound, which combines elements of folk, rock, gospel, soul and a touch of glam. Of course, a lot of it is also because of the energy and charisma of frontman Alex Ebert, who seems to be able to whip up a crowd of any size into a quasi-religious fervor.

The audience at SOhO, split into under-21s on stage right and over-21s on stage left, was clearly made up of fans, who joyfully sang and danced along. If you didn’t like the crowded, cramped vibe near the stage, things were more chill toward the back.

Nearly all of the songs from the band’s 2009 debut album Up From Below were performed, plus the Jade Castrinos’ singing showcase “Fiya Wata.”

Crowd favorites included the folk-gospel opener “Up From Below,” the glam-soul “40 Day Dream,” the happy-pop-sounding “Janglin,” the folk-stomp “Home” and the hypnotic-and-uplifting “Om Nashi Me.” But really, every song was great in its own unique way.

The concert closed with Ebert asking the crowd to sit down, with many sitting onstage with the band. When he then sang “Brother,” one felt, at least for a fleeting moment, that we were all — band and audience — part of a really big family.

By the way, some friendly advice: The next time Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros come to town, get your tickets early.

Setlist

Up From Below
40 Day Dream
Janglin
Fiya Wata
Carries On
Black Water
Come In Peace
Home
Desert Song
Om Nashi Me
Jade
Brother

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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