"This place is crazy," the tour manager tells me on the phone, and, indeed, the Clubhouse in Tempe is crazy-packed for Tuesday's sold-out performance by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.
Before the opening act - Dawes, a folk-rock foursome that reminds me strongly, and pleasantly, of Wilco - finishes their set, the Clubhouse bar is already under siege five-deep with interestingly-attired hipster rock fans (including one dude with a handlebar moustache and L.A. Dodgers baseball cap who looks like he should be fielding grounders with Steve Garvey, circa 1978).
This, coupled with the Clubhouse's legendary aversion to air
conditioning, makes for a swampy, cramped milieu - but the fans seem
content merely to have scored a ticket. I imagine most of them are here
because of the ESATMZ's breakout Carter Family-meets-Arcade Fire single,
"Home," but I meet a few enthusiasts who know the band's one and only
album, Up from Below, from top to bottom.
Since lead singer Alex Ebert and co. (they can feature up to 15
musicians; tonight they have nine) have at most two dozen songs in their
live repertoire, it seems useful and easy simply to describe Tuesday's
circumscribed setlist song-by-song:
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- "40 Day Dream": A great, exalting drug-culture anthem that really
captures the hippie-rock-tribe electricity of the band. The crowd laps
Not sure about the song title... could be " "... but it's worth noting
that the show is already 20 minutes old by the time the band gets around
to playing it. That's hippie-time for you!
"Carries On," I think. Another "expansive, sunshine-y" lullaby, in
Ebert's words. Listening to it, I think to myself that if Bad Religion
has a dark-matter antithetical opposite, it's Edward Sharpe and the
"Black Water." Ebert speaks briefly on 1070 ("There's no rational
connection between a piece of paper and the way it really is") before
launching into this smoky waltz. He sounds uncannily like Roy Orbison!
Sounds like Orbison, looks like Charles Manson. You gotta love this guy.
- Come in Please." The album's second best track, in my estimation.
When Stewart Cole unleashes the trumpet, the crowd goes ape-shit.
I believe this is a cover of "River Won't Flow" from Jason Robert
Brown's off-Broadway Songs for a New World. Which makes sense, because
ESATMZ is nothing if not musical theater.
- Not sure about this one... Ebert is singing about Galilee and speaking
"Desert Song." Ebert strikes an unmistakable Morrison pose here.
"Home." An infectious, everything-affirming kitsch masterpiece, with
charming back-and-forth cornpone dialogue between Ebert and
co-singer/ex-girlfriend Jade Castrinos. It's on HBO's house ads now.
Memory fails me on this one. Might have been the haunting Hare
Krishna ballad "Om Nashi Me."
For the finale, Ebert and co. hunker down on stage's edge and the
crowd sits Indian-style like a bona fide hippie music circle. It's
ballsy, but a tad anti-climactic and most of the crowd seems to lose
In sum: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes are polarizers be sure.
Some people will absolutely hate their affectations. But the music
itself has a lot more rigor, structure and purpose than the tie-dye
shirts and swami hair-buns might suggest. It's just too bad the
promoters didn't book a bigger venue to accommodate the sounds, themes,
and dozens of turned-away fans.
BETTER THAN: A drum circle at First Fridays no matter how many space
cakes you've ingested.
AND ANOTHER THING: How about booking them at the Marquee next time?
Edward Sharpe might be a dirty cosmic-playboy hippie, but the swamplike
conditions at the Clubhouse even had HIM complaining about the heat.
(Plus, it seems like everyone had a friend who couldn't get tickets.
Clearly, somebody underestimated their drawing power.)