As I watched Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros in concert for the fourth time in less than a year — this time at the Lobero Theatre on Friday night, twice previously at SOhO and once at the Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles — I started to reflect on what makes them so good.
Certainly a lot of it is frontman Alex Ebert’s charisma and energy, as he sings and dances with almost religious fervor. Their overall feel-good vibe also helps, as does Jade Castrinos’ soul-penetrating voice, the well-placed trumpet bits and the band’s full but uncluttered sound.
But ultimately, I think it comes down to the songs, most notably their lyrical depth and their sonic and emotional builds and releases. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that many of them have singalong choruses.
Take their song “Janglin’,” which led off the Lobero concert. It starts with an immediately catchy, almost childlike set of um-pahs and da-da-das, has verses with interesting lyrics such as “Well your wartime is funny / Your guns don’t bother me / I said we’re out to prove the truth of / The man from Galilee / Well your laws are for dummies, yes / Your institutions dead / I say we’re out to blow the trumpet / To wake you all from bed,” and has a chorus with well-placed “heys” that are enthusiastically shouted by the audience.
Or take their song “40 Day Dream,” the first track off their debut album Up From Below and a crowd favorite in concert. It has a retro, almost mellotron sounding keyboard intro, a David Bowie-in-the-‘70s vibe, and ends with an almost “Hey Jude”-worthy singalong “Ohh Ahh-ahh-ahh, Ohh Ahh-ahh-ahh, yeah / Yeah yeah yeah.”
Or consider their most popular song, “Home,” with its infectious whistled intro, down-home lyrics and feel-good chorus: “Home, let me come home / home is whenever I’m with you / Home, yes I am home / Home is wherever I’m with you.” I’m personally also quite fond of the trumpet-led bit right after the chorus, with its shifting meter and yet more “heys.” A fun part in concert is always the middle spoken section, when Alex and Jade ad lib — this time, without seeming sappy, they said they loved each other. Awww.
A special treat was the band playing a new, unreleased song, “Man on Fire,” in impromptu response to a shouted request from someone in-the-know in the audience. It took a few minutes for the band to get ready for this. “We can’t always be amazing,” Alex joked. “Sometimes we just have to get up here and just play music, you know?” But really, you wouldn’t know from their fine performance that it wasn’t planned.
The song features folky, strummed verses, a build-up to the swinging call-and-response chorus, “Man on fire / Walking down the street / Got one guitar / Two dancing feet,” and some signature trumpet playing. This is a promising indicator that the band’s future material will be as strong as what has already been released.
Ebert also gave an interesting intro to the song “Black Water,” which he said was not about oil, rather the black ink used on “dead wood” when Native Americans signed away their rights, making the song quite poignant.
For the encore, Ebert climbed out into the audience to sing “Brother,” with a few people holding up cigarette lighters and some blowing soap bubbles that floated magically through the air.
Ebert seemed to be in particularly good spirits, joking a bit with the audience between songs. He confessed that he had felt nervous at his previous Santa Barbara concerts, but that “tonight feels really, really, really ... really good.” Castrinos seemed even more animated than usual, whipping her hair around as she belted out “Fiya Wata.”
The opening set was by We Are Each Other, which features Aaron Embry on piano, who was joined for most of the songs by the headliners. Particularly good was the last song, the upbeat “Every Part of You.” Embry returned the favor by playing with the Edward Sharpe et al during their set.
With so many performances in Santa Barbara in the past year — the two SOhO shows, UCSB’s Extravaganza and now at the Lobero — it’s starting to feel like Santa Barbara is the Los Angeles-based band’s home away from home. Lucky us.
Up From Below
40 Day Dream
Come In Please
Man On Fire
Om Nashi Me
— 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.