Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros live @ The Old Vic Tunnels, London
Back in the summer of 2009 I caught Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros storm through their first London performance in the intimate surroundings of The Lexington in North London. Their debut album ‘Up From Below’ was already a regular fixture on my ipod and would deservedly end up as this sites number one album of the year. That night it was immediately obvious to me and the 100 or so people in attendance that we were witnessing something very very special and, dare I say it, spiritual.
In the time since the multi-membered musical cult have played shows across the planet charming and seducing new audiences along the way. Their name has been steadily rising as the music press and blogs began to pay attention helped in no small amount, I’m sure, by the mass appeal of standout track ‘Home‘. My immediate fear when I found out about these upcoming London performances was that some of the intimacy I had observed back in August would be lost on a larger audience.
The counter argument of course is that that that their heightened success has given the band the freedom to further their creative ideas. Ideas like playing 5 consecutive nights at The Old Vic Tunnels for example….
As far as London goes I haven’t experienced many venues as concealed as this one. It took us a good twenty minutes to find despite it only being 5 minutes from Waterloo. On any other day this may have resembled one of the many graffiti blanketed passages in the area but a throng of people outside as well as a massive Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros mural were kind of a giveaway.
Walking into the venue we were presented with a carnivalesque mood with performers and art installations all around. After being frisked by some alien cops (and being rewarded with sweets for it) we wandered around the venue stumbling across one crazy happening after the next. In between massive moon and sun effigies and wandering characters we witnessed a Mardi Gras style funeral whilst avoiding the overpriced beer in the Texan Tavern. The band were not due on stage for another hour but arguably we were already starting to get value for our money.
All of these side shows would have counted for little if the music had not been up to scratch and that was soon put to the test. With the introductory sounds of ‘Janglin’, the band’s de facto anthem, playing over the PA the 10 or so members began zigzagging their way right through the audience to reach the front. With an outbreak of smiles hitting both the stage and the audience the band burst into their first number and I was reminded of what made me fall in love with The Magnetic Zeros to begin with.
The band effortlessly reeled off big tracks like ‘Up From Below’, ‘Carries On’ and a spooky rendition of ‘Desert Song’ inducing mass sing-alongs at every possible occasion. Their sound has seemingly evolved after constantly tourign so that these songs appear to be much bigger and much more of a collective effort in comparison to the recorded versions.
This impression of cohesion and harmony was reinforced by a succession of band members lining up to play “their” songs. This gave us a chance to hear a new song fronted by cool as ice guitarist Christian as well as a sweet Simon & Garfunkel like number titled ‘Every Part Of You’ by excitable pianist Aaron. The highlight of course was hearing the amazing Jade Castrinos deliver a spine chilling rendition of ‘Fire & Water’ which was previously released only on their ‘Itunes Sessions’ EP. With so many talented musicians and vocalists on stage every song culminates in an explosion of melody and energy.
No Edward Sharpe review would be complete without a mention of frontman Alex Ebert. Even in those moments when he is not directly involved in the singing you feel you can’t take your eyes off of him. The shamanistic singer guided his band mates and the crowd throughout the night creating a very real connection. Spending a good portion of the set in the middle of the dance floor he is, as ever, the charismatic cult leader shepherding his followers along the path to ultimate enlightenment.
A brilliant rendition of ’40 Day Dream’ peaks and soars but by this point you got the feeling that half the crowd were waiting for one thing in particular. Of course they wouldn’t be disappointed as the familiar guitar and whistle intro of ‘Home’ eliciting a huge cheer. I fear that this may someday become the band’s equivalent to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ but for now they still manage to play it with gusto. Compared to the last time I saw them there was noticeably less interaction between the protagonists Alex and Jade as they sung they parts. As a result the song took on a spiritual significance rather than a romantic one but was not worse off for it.
With the glorious notes of ‘Om Nashi Me’ ringing around the venue this would have been a fitting conclusion to a brilliant night but The Magnetic Zeros had more yet more surprises in store. After inviting the audience to a serving of milk and cookies (yes, really!) on the way out they continue continue playing for an extra hour or so just outside the venue surrounded by hundreds of new and old adoring fans.
It would have be sufficient to just show up and play a few songs but once again it feels like I have subscribed to a complete audio-visual experience. It’s precisely this willingness to always go the extra mile that makes this crazy talented bunch a true delight to witness live.
More than anything I get the feeling that Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are having fun doing what they are doing and most of all having fun being together. Perhaps that is the secret to their magic.