It must have be serendipity but soon after I discovered the music of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros‘ I spotted the band were rolling into London for a few shows. Having fallen in love with their album only a few weeks earlier I would now get the chance to test their credentials. Surely the magic could not be recreated live, there were just too many places this could fall flat on its face.
LIVE @ THE LEXINGTON 20/08/09
First up came a show at The Lexington, a relatively new venue near Angel. Its intimate upstairs room was the perfect setting for an initiation with The Magnetic Zeros. As the band filed on stage and took their positions there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air a split second before the band threw themselves into the first song causing the room to erupted.
You can read all the press releases and scout out all the photo shoots but nothing will prepare you for when you first see the band on stage. I found myself wondering if the entire audience had somehow been transported back in time with the band not only looking like they had come out of a lost documentary about a great 60s band but also acting the part.
Frontman Alex Ebert spent half of the concert euphorically dancing in the middle of the audience and still didn’t miss a single note. His affirmation, before breaking into yet another anthem, that he “really shouldn’t have smoked that joint before coming on stage” warranted a hearty chuckle from the crowd.
A quick look around the room confirmed that most of the crowd was singing every word back. The evident sense of camaraderie on stage suggested the band were having as much fun playing these songs as the audience were having receiving them. There is something really special about 10 people engaging the audience at every opportunity and all contributing to a glorious like atmosphere.
After what seems like only a few minutes the band reluctantly left the stage. In actual fact they had already performed for well over an hour yet that didn’t stop the crowd from begging for more. I got the feeling that the band could have just play on through the night.
Their parting shot was “Come see us in the park tomorrow..”
“WHAT PARK!?” shouted the audience in mock pantomime style….
It took a quick look around the internet to confirm that the band would indeed be playing in Victoria Park on Friday afternoon. As I arrived with photographer Stefan to the bandstand I was worried we may have been in the wrong place or that we had missed it altogether. There were only 3 people around and they didn’t appear to be particularly interested in any performance.
Soon enough though a small crowd began to build and I spotted some familiar silhouettes approaching the bandstand from the distance. Once they got closer the band were completely charming making a point of greeting the people who had gathered around at this point. Even though I only spent a few hours in their company this was a real insight into how the band clicked.
Following an impromptu stretching sessions, some rolling around in the grass and some free cider and crisps (courtesy of nice folk at Rough Trade Records) the band rolled out their piano and set up their instruments. Starting their performance with trumpet player Stewart Cole sat at a picnic nearby and playing from afar you realise how relaxed these guys are around each other. Eventually he joins the rest of the gang and they produce wonderful renditions of the same tracks I had heard the previous night.
Stunning blonde Nora Kirkpatrick adds some beauty to the ensemble but it would be a mistake to dismiss her as simple eye candy. Her accordion is ever present on the album and was even more present in this acoustic setting. It is partly thanks to her that melodies that would normally linger behind the scenes on the record claim rightful recognition live.
In most other band the disruption of Alex Ebert’s constantly wandering off mid-song would inevitably cause some tension but in The Magnetic Zeros this was laughed off and incorporated into the show as a running joke. There seems to be a surprising lack of egos in the ensemble and the bands seem to genuinely enjoy each others company and are happy to go with the flow.
There was just enough time for a rousing rendition of ‘Up From Below‘ before the band were rushed off to play an in-store appearance at Rough Trade East. I briefly consider attending this performance as well but instead head home to prepare for tonight.
Koko in Camden offered yet another setting and a very different audience. The crowd seemed to mostly consist of university students and I was wondering what they would make of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. In the past I had not been particularly approving of the venue new design. However, I must admit the upstairs bar area presented a formidable view of the stage.
As the scheduled performance time of 1 am approached I was surprised by how packed the dance floor had become. The band were dressed more formally this time out but, obviously, still in vintage gear bringing a colourful explosion to the stage. Benefiting from the great acoustics in the venue the performance was slightly more edgy than on the previous night but not worse off for it and this uninitiated audience were soon eating out of their hands.
I had reserved particular praise for Jade Castrinos‘ contribution to the bands dynamic in my review of their album and on stage she is even more dazzling. Her harmonies and improvised chants were truly wonderful and the interaction with beau Alex produced some of the most profound moments. She belongs to a select group of artists who are slightly crazy yet incredibly talented and is the true soul of the ensemble.
For the third time in 2 days I watched Alex and Jade sing the amazing ‘Home‘ (undoubtedly my track of 2009), to eachother. It is almost like night after night the rest of the band and the audience are complicit as the duo reinforce their feelings for one another. The romance that transpires through the songs really takes on a whole new understanding on stage.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros did not disappoint but rather reinforced my infatuation with their debut. Over 2 days I witnessed the band play three contrasting locations winning new fans along the way and surpassing themselves on every occasion. By the end of the last show on Friday night a whole bunch of new fans and I were won over by both their music and their personalities.
As a bonus here is the band performing ‘Home‘ on Letterman only a few weeks after I had seen them, no doubt more fans were won along the way.