On Friday night, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros made their first appearance in the area since Sean Parker’s wedding, and while America’s Cup Pavilion wasn’t as ridiculous as Parker’s Tolkien-themed nuptials, the temporary venue definitely had its share of oddities.
A long wait at a restaurant combined with some odd people routing at the venue forced me to miss all but a pair of songs from Denton, Texas band Midlake, whose set was over just 40 minutes after the 8pm start time. I was a little worried how well the often somber band would handle such a large space and crowd, but they played with more energy than I expected and seemed to please the fans.
The quick set gave me time to explore the odd setup and purchase a beer. You could have whatever you wanted as long as it was a $10 Heineken or Newcastle. There was also a concession stand dedicated to “wine and cheese” for the America’s Cup crowd. Seriously! The temporary grandstands were less than half full, but the fake grass floor area was mostly full with a crowd of couples on dates, hippies, high schoolers, screaming girls, and a handful America’s Cup VIP’s who appeared to be lost. It was a beautiful night, and a walk around the grounds provided great views of Telegraph Hill and the downtown skyline. Oddly enough, the Bay was mostly hidden from view everywhere I went.
After a ridiculous 40 minute intermission, only about half of which was spent setting up the dozens of instruments that would be used, Alexander Ebert and his 11(!) Magnetic Zeros took the stage. Kicking things off with “Man on Fire”, the band showed what it does best from the start: allowing quiet breakdowns in the music to gradually build into enormous folk-rock choruses, with all but one or two of the 12 on stage singing, clapping, and playing a variety of instruments. When it clicks – which it often does – it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in their uplifting swells of sound, no matter how corny the song they’re singing seems on the surface. It truly takes impressive talent and stage presence to make a song titled “That’s What Up” leave you wanting more and completely forgetting it’s called “That’s What’s Up”, but Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros managed to do just that.
Still, it’s difficult to sustain an entire set with songs that pack the power of a “40 Day Dream”, so several members took over lead vocal duties, with Jade Castrinos showing she could easily front a band of her own. Guitarist Christian Letts led a pair of tunes that reminded me of the Ringo Starr portion of the Beatles catalog, and percussionist Chris Richards was pulled from a deep dark corner of the stage to lead the funky “Go Tell it On the Mountain (I’m On Fire)” with his impressive falsetto.
After over an hour of playing most of their well-known songs, someone in the crowd, perhaps one of the many America’s Cup VIP’s in attendance, yelled out, “Play that song I know!” Almost on cue, the band launched into “Home”. It would be very easy for the Magnetic Zeros to omit the song from the set, but they seem to have made it their signature moment – an equivalent of “Do You Realize” at a Flaming Lips show. They milk it for all it’s worth, spending a lengthy interlude to give the mic to fans in the front row to share their own stories of their home, love, how great Edward Sharpe is, or how they named their adopted stray cat after Jade Castrinos (as one of the storytellers did Friday night). It’s cheesy and perhaps a little self-serving, but after the stories, all 12 Magnetic Zeros were put to use on that chorus, and I found myself sucked back into the moment.
At 10:56, Ebert announced they only had four minutes left, but started another song anyway. At exactly 11 o’clock, a stage manager ran out to talk to Ebert and the sound was instantly cut off mid-song and the lights came on. Ebert tried to get the band to keep playing, but it just wasn’t working in such a large venue. Someone in the band located a travel amp with a mic which Ebert used in an attempt to thank the crowd before leading the band and crowd in an acapella rendition of “Lean on Me”. It wasn’t my favorite, but it seemed to make the end of the night less awkward and ugly than it could have been with the abrupt sound curfew.
Despite the expensive and limited beer selection, odd crowd, and strict sound curfew, I honestly wish America’s Cup Pavilion wasn’t going away after the handful of remaining shows there this year. The great views, decent sound for its size, and the fact that it’s an outdoor venue in the City show that it could do well if given the chance.
Up next for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros is their very own “Big Top” in LA next month, which will feature performances from the Zeros in a round top tent along with “vaudeville comedy, contortionists, acrobats, puppetry and interactive performance art.” Like Edward Sharpe’s music, it sounds like it could teeter on the edge of ridiculous and silly, but if anyone can make you forget the silliness and get wrapped up in the moment, it’s Ebert and his crew.