“I Will Love You Forever”: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the Observatory
I arrived rather heartbroken to the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros concert at the Observatory in Santa Ana this last Wednesday March 14th. I was heartbroken for no reason associated with with show, but admittedly I would have rather stayed home and watched the UK versions of “Top Gear” and “Cash in the Attic” while eating chocolate. Luckily I remembered how fabulous I am, found my will power, got gussied up and went to the Edward Sharpe show. I am so deeply glad I did.
I didn’t realize that my press pass got me backstage; I was just sort of surprisingly directed backstage by security. I had been feeling so heartbroken and vulnerable this week that I was not in the mood to deal with pretentious rockstar bullshit and the attitudes of coolness in a scene. But immediately after walking backstage at this show, I breathed a sigh of relief. What I found there was the nine members of the Magnetic Zeros, their friends, and crew huddling in a circle in their pre-show ritual. They breathed deeply together and you could feel their comradery and support. It felt like an intimate moment that it was an honor to witness. The whole backstage had the positive energy of a yoga class amongst friends. I knew in that moment this show was going to be fun. And it certainly was.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros played an exuberant two-hour, 16-song set, right up to the venue’s curfew at midnight. Though singer Alex Ebert is a consummate performer, who jumped into the pit and ran around atop the divider walls in the venue, the show still felt like we were witnessing the honest intimacy of an awesome band rehearsal. At times, the band paused between songs to tune and talk to each other with an air of respect, friendship, and reverie. It felt like the audience had the privilege of being invited into the world of the Magnetic Zeros; like we were their friends through music for the night.
Alex Ebert led the band, dressed like his messianic Edward Sharpe persona. Sharpe is like a cross between a joyful Hari Krishna and a southern tent-revival preacher, chanting and dancing barefoot with a his long hair in a high bun and a tattered white suit. The band opened with a rousing rendition of “40 Day Dream” which went into the sweet, 70s pop-esque “Carries On” in which Ebert bantered with the audience.
The band then introduced a new song from their next album which was like gospel and blue-grass- inspired number which chanted the lyrics “I love my god, god made good… god made bad… god made me.” For this number, the band played standup bass, accordion, trumpet, and banjo and huddled together in a circle together in the middle of the stage. This felt like a sweet, intimate moment with the nine members of the band.
The band peppered their set with several more new songs which were well-received by the enthusiastic audience. The band announced to cheers that their next album would be a double album. In the band’s new material you can hear traditional country and folk influences along with references to Harold and Maude-era Cat Stevens, Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie, and Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles. Of the new material, my favorite song was a lovely country-infused melody called “Child” sung by guitarist Christian Letts. Backstage I happened to be standing next to Pavel Maslowiec, the guitar maker who built the beautiful resonator guitar (originally built for Rocco DeLuca) which was being played by Christian Letts during this tour.
When singer Jade Castrinos sang her soulful songs or parts of songs alone, the appreciative audience cheered loudly. Castrinos has an awesome voice with warmth and character. Likewise, she performs with warmth on stage, often stopping to reach out and clasp hands with nearby audience members.
During “Up From Below,” a seemingly autobiographical song about singer Alex Ebert, many of the captivated audience sang the inspiring chorus of “I’ve already suffered/ I want you to know/ I’m riding on hell’s hot flames/ coming up from below.” This song went into a meditative jam over which Ebert performed some spoken word poetry, in which he sounded like if Jim Morrison had a happy childhood or had overcome his internal strife and found enlightenment.
This moment captured the feel of the band for me. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have taken some of the best elements of the 1960s and 70s- eastern spiritual concepts of one-ness and the joyfulness of hippie-esque freedom in dance, music and love- and channeled it through a new generation’s outlook on life which feels a lot less naive and more genuinely happy than our hippie fore-bearers. The personal song “Up From Below” then took on a more universal meaning to me. In that moment it reflected the struggle to learn, from both our own past and the pasts of the generations who came before us, to be better people and musicians.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros finished their night with the triumphant “Home,” during which they invited much of the audience in the pit on stage for a joyous free-for-all. Earlier in the night I had noticed a few of my former and current high school students in the audience, and I was proud to see them part of the crowd on stage. Guitarist Mark Noseworthy handed his guitar to one of my former students Johnny Higa of the band Foxhollow and let him play with the band for a while. It warmed my heart to see a band be so inclusive and kind to their young audience, especially when I personally knew a few audience members and knew what an inspiring effect the kindness would have on them.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros might have inherited much inspiration from bands from the 1960s and 70s, but they continue to pass that inspiration forward to the future generation of bands every time they play generous and joyful shows like this one. Needless to say, I personally felt much less heartbroken by the end of the show. The last words sung by the band this evening were “I will love you forever.” Between the audience and the band, the feeling felt very mutual.