During Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes’ performance of “Home” at this year’s Sasquatch Festival in Seattle, front man Alex Ebert waded into the crowd asking for “stories.” After several insufferable minutes of X’d out twenty-somethings screaming, “you’re my favorite band” or repeating what can only be described as their favorite bits of dialogue from “Girls Gone Wild,” Ebert found what he was looking for. Through dangerously dilated pupils, a girl said (and I’m paraphrasing):
“I went to India and I met a sheep that told me all my dreams would come true. I followed him to the United States where I danced for twelve hours, and as I did all my dreams came true. And I found that my home is right here.”
Picking up on the thread, Ebert and company amended the lyrics to the summer anthem of 2010 singing, “Home is anywhere we are,” creating a moment of unity between artist and audience rarely seen this side of a U2 concert.
This is the crux of what makes Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes who they are. You see, there is no Ed Sharpe; he’s a fictional messianic character from a book Ebert started working on while in a 12-step program. The Zeroes began as a musical project formed not long after Ebert met vocalist/guitarist Jade Castrinos outside a Los Angeles café. Though he strives to look physically like an unwashed Jesus, Ebert is less messianic figure and more community organizer. The loose, shambling Zeroes are a collective as much as a band, boasting 10 current members and another dozen former and auxiliary ones (including one who specializes in “off-note harmonies”).
The band is at the forefront of a wave of sprawling collectives, replete with gang vocals and guy/girl duets that started with bands like Arcade Fire and the Polyphonic Spree, and have become a full-blown trend (if this year’s SXSW is to be believed). But Ebert’s stories of love—and really—community, call to mind what we around here would call “a pickin’”; musically talented part-timers who play for the joy of music, getting together to share the music they love. If you wanna listen, great; but if you’d rather join in—even better.
Hack music writers tend to compare this band to the current “Laurel Canyon Sound” or, more often, to the music of the ’60s. While the gratuitous use of plate reverb certainly lends a throwback air to the tracks, it’s the sense of companionship and unbridled optimism that, perhaps unsurprisingly, makes this band so appealing to echo boomers. That and the fact that Ebert’s infectious pop melodies have more hooks than a Pocket Fisherman.
This particular tour takes them around the festival circuit, including stops at the Bonnaroo, Floyd Fest and the aforementioned Sasquatch festivals. It’s a tour that culminates with the gig in their hometown of LA at the Hollywood Bowl.
The band is on the road promoting its new eponymous release (available July 23 on Community Records) and if the first release,“Better Days,” is any indication, it represents a modest shift from the Polyphonic Partridge Family sound of previous albums to a murkier—but more anthemic—sound that backs away from like-minded bands such as Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers towards something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-’90s Flaming Lips album.
"These songs mean everything to me," says Ebert, who produced the album. "It's the rawest, most liberated, most rambunctious stuff we've done."
Later legs of this tour find them reuniting with bro-mates Mumford as well as Old Crow Medicine Show and others, playing nontraditional venues as part of the “Gentlemen of the Road Stopover” tour
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes bring their rambling, acid-tinged, feel-good folk rock to the Scenic City Tuesday, June 18 at Track 29. Tickets are $25. The similarly themed LA quintet He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister opens.