Who says size doesn’t matter?
Los Angeles-based Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are big, at least in number, if not quite yet in popularity, apart from growing pockets of true believers. At their sold-out SOhO show Saturday night, part of the weekend’s New Noise Santa Barbara music conference, there were 10 — or was it 11? — musicians crammed onto the stage.
With instruments ranging from the traditional for a rock band (guitar, keyboards and drums) to the less common (trumpet and accordion), they delivered a full but uncluttered sound as they romped through their repertoire of gospel-tinged folk-rock gems from their 2009 debut album, “Up From Below.”
Despite their size, it was sometimes easy to miss the rest of the band, as one was naturally drawn to watch frontman Alex Ebert, a bearded, wild-haired, bare-chested dynamo oozing with charisma. (In the band, Ebert, who in a previous incarnation sang in the punk-pop band Ima Robot, adopts the alias of his childhood alter-ego, Edward Sharpe.)
The show kicked off with the delightfully soulful “40 Day Dream,” with the album’s lyrics “I’ve been sleeping for 40 days / Yeah, I know that I’m sleeping ‘cause this dream’s too amazing” replaced by “I’ve been bull***t for 40 days / Yeah, I know that I’m bull***t ‘cause this dream’s too amazing,” apparently in reference to Ebert’s crazy week.
It was followed by a reinvented, raucous take on “Up From Below,” with a gospel-inspired beginning that called out the “power of love” before building to a frenzy with the chorus “Now I’ve already suffered I want you to know / God, I’m riding on Hell’s hot flames coming up from below.”
After the band led the crowd in a rendition of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” for drummer Josh Collazo’s birthday, things slowed slightly for “Janglia,” with passionate singing and harmonies from Ebert and his girlfriend, Jade Castinos. It featured the infectious chorus “We want to feel ya! (Hey) / We don’t mean to kill ya! (Hey) / We come back to heal ya — Janglin soul / Edward and the Magnetic Zeros.”
Next up was the new song “Fiya Wata,” with a strummy Grateful Dead vibe and powerful singing from Castinos. It was followed by the crowd favorite ode-to-love “Home,” with its whistled intro, opening lyrics “Alabama, Arkansas, I do love my Ma and Pa / But not as much as I do love you” sung by Castinos, and incredibly catchy chorus that declares “Home is whenever I’m with you.”
Crowd interaction reached its height, somewhat literally, during the next song, “Om Nashi Me,” in which Sharpe ended up in the audience, jumping up and down in a small circle of fans with energy radiating out to everyone else. More wild than the studio version, a highlight was when the band led the crowd in rhythmic clapping until the trumpet came in, bringing cathartic release.
Somehow in the excitement, a large disco ball was knocked down from the ceiling. It was passed up to Sharpe, who called it “the hairiest disco ball he’d ever seen.” The disco ball temporarily served as his muse for the retro-vibe-filled “Come In Please,” during which Ebert’s singing sounded like a crazed Marty Balin from Jefferson Airplane.
After things slowed down for “Black Water,” Ebert joked that they would sing the “song we’ve made famous with our travels around the world,” before settling on “not the world famous one, but something nice.” “Carries On” was the concert closer, with a U2-esque sound and the uplifting lyrics of “One love, One love / Carries on.”
As Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros continue to carry on, one hopes they become as big in popularity as their band size. Their sound is a welcome addition to our musical landscape.
40 Day Dream
Up From Below
Om Nashi Me
Come In Please