Review + Photos: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at The Greek Theatre
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (photo: Joshua Huver)
Edward Sharpe, the enigmatic character born out of the death of Alex Ebert’s ego, is dead. Or dying.
That’s one of the possibilities Ebert is OK with fans interpreting the album art for the latest ESMZ album, PersonA. On the cover, the name Edward Sharpe is crossed out. What began as an outlet for limitless and unfettered self-expression for Ebert, slowly turned into the mask that he was trying to eschew.
“At most, Edward Sharpe was a vehicle for me to get to slough off whatever I had become up until that point, and to get back to or sort of allow my pure self to come forth into sort of a clean slate. A tabula rasa, you know?” Ebert admitted in an April interview. “As time went on and the Edward Sharpe thing started to meld into peoples
[sic] minds as a character that I was putting on and a mask that I was wearing onstage the entire sort of premise of being myself onstage and allowing my pure self to come through onstage was lost on these people. So I think it’s time to sort of really explain it and one way to explain it is to just cross is out, you know?”
But the show must go on, and although Ebert takes center stage (and left, and right, and in the crowd, or wherever he wants to go), he wants the focus to remain on the music, the experience and the active catalyst between feeling and expression. PersonA, the fourth album and first since the departure of co-founding member Jade Castrinos, aims to explore that missing pieces of that connection.
Over the course of a 14-song set, Ebert and and his cohorts mystified the crowd with no less than 10 people on stage at a time. The band consists of Ebert, Christian Letts, Christopher “Crash” Richard, Stewart Cole, Mark Noseworthy, Mitchell Yoshida, Seth Ford-Young, Josh Collazo, Joel Shearer and Orpheo McCor, all of whom share vocal duties and constantly rotate musical instruments – sometimes even mid-song – as well as a four-piece brass horn section of Raffi Garabedian, Sophie Powers, Tommy Occhiuto, and Jay Sanders.
The group opened strong and immediately shredded the typical disconnect between the people on the stage and in the crowd with Ebert sitting on the stage and taking requests. Somebody shouted out “Don’t Wanna Pray,” a tune from the 2012 release Here. Following the song, Ebert remarked that he hadn’t recalled them ever opening with that song before.
“Let’s Get High,” an anthemic shrugging of responsibility from 2013’s self-titled release preceded the fan favorite “Janglin” from the group’s debut record Up From Below, released in 2009. They returned to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros for the B-side track “When You’re Young.”
Throughout his time on stage, Ebert has not stood still. He has crouched, stretched, danced and sat with his feet off of the edge of the stage (left and right and center, of course). Ebert asked audience members what songs they wanted to hear, and once he heard one he liked he would oblige.
The next two songs, “Somewhere” and “Wake Up The Sun” off of PersonA carried the psychedelic influence of Edward Sharpe into new territory, featuring a very Angels and Airwaves ethereal space break drenched in reverb before a rambunctious sing along of “Wake Up.”
Opening the next track with his infamous whistle, Ebert evoked a Spaghetti Western tone that was matched by the horn prowess of multi-instrumentalist Stewart Cole. The track is actually a cover of Ebert’s “Truth” from his 2011 solo project Alexander. Unlike anything ESMZ, Ebert danced between band mates and channeling a Matisyahu-esque rap-hymnal.
“That got weird for a minute,” said Ebert, his bouncing had changed demeanor and he winced in pain. “I fucked up my ankle watching Bob Dylan last night.”
As soon as he regained composure, they launched into “Man on Fire” from 2012’s Here before the cover debut of “Who Loves The Sun” off of The Velvet Underground’s 1970 release Loaded.
A B-side bust-out of the self-titled album’s “Give Me A Sign” followed a touching tribute to a lost friend. “Hot Coals” off of the new disc was “a lot of fun” according to Ebert, and given the crowd response, it should be a staple of their live show soon enough. Ebert returned to the audience for song suggestions and once Here‘s “Mayla” was decided on, Ebert attempted to coax jokes out of the unfunny crowd, and eventually brought out “our brassy friends,” a four-piece brass ensemble made up of Raffi Garabedian, Sophie Powers, Tommy Occhiuto, and Jay Sanders.
12 songs in and 15 minutes left before a hard stop at 11:00pm, Ebert came clean with the audience about the time restrictions, informing the crowd that in lieu of the traditional walk-off, return, and then encore, they weren’t going to waste anyone’s time and instead were going to play through as hard as they can.
The smash hit debut single “Home” had the entire crowd of about 2,500 people (just over a quarter of the Greek’s 8K capacity) singing along. In the absence of Castrinos, the song’s story-telling bridge relies once again on crowd participation to fill the gaps. “We know that story,” said Ebert. “Does anyone have a new story? Someone who’s really burning.”
After finishing the tune, Ebert put the pressure on the crowd one more time, urging them to hurry and pick before the lights came up. Someone shouted “40 Day Dream,” a song that Ebert has described as “our ‘Freebird’.” They obliged, ending the loose and carefree show on an ultimately high note.
Michigan grown, California cured. From punk to roots to indie to funk, progressive, ambient and poppy, music has been indispensable in his life and taking part in creating, receiving and sharing in the entire process has come second nature to Joshua. He works closely with musicians across the country and in his current city of Santa Cruz.
Check out his work here with The Bay Bridged as well as Relix, Live For Live Music, Grateful Web and Glide Magazine.