The magical quality of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros is that the SoCal folk pop band always seems to be making it up as it goes along. Whether it’s the setlist – frontman Alex Ebert always seems to be asking a band member what should be played next – to his between-song banter, to the created-on-the-spot soloing of individual musicians including the local violinist stand-ins.
All were on display Friday night at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. Ebert, vocalist-guitarist Jade Castrinos and their large crew were in midseason form, as was their controlled ramshackle pop show, as they flawlessly mixed songs for their first two albums, and threw in a new up-tempo track, possibly called “Minding My Middle” and presumably to be on the band’s second album of 2012, to be released this year.
Ebert is loved by the band’s fans because he’s not afraid to get bruised and scratched up for the sake of connecting with them. Friday he climbed into the crowd twice before the band kicked in to its first song, “Man On Fire,” from this spring’s Here. On the next few tunes the band alternated between Here and 2009’s Up From Below: “40 Day Dream,” “I Don’t Wanna Pray” and “Janglin.” Another highlight included “Truth,” a track off Ebert’s 2011 solo album, Alexander. Ebert’s spoken delivery contrasted nicely from the other songs.
If there was any inconsistency in the performance, it was that the first half of the show was front-loaded with upbeat songs, and the second half consisted of slower tracks. But even an extended Castrinos-Ebert dialogue about what they had for lunch, during the bridge of their biggest hit, “Home,” didn’t detract from the seemingly impromptu show.