By Jocelyn Geboy
(Video included) Love at first sight — catching the eye of someone on a train or across the room at a party and being instantly smitten. Love at first listen — hearing a band for the first time and knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I’ll be at their next show (and the next and the next), I’ll buy their next album and, even though I haven’t even heard the rest of the current one, that I’ll love it. Bands like Frisbie, Fanfarlo, Free Energy, and Freelance Whales (there’s got to be ones outside of the letter F, right?). Sure there is … Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros.
So, it was with a true thrill that I saw the double bill of Freelance Whales and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros announced as a Lollapalooza aftershow several months ago. I knew it would be a hot ticket, but I endeavored to snap one up. I failed. As the day approached, I got a bad feeling that there would be tickets, but way out of my price range. A quick search of Craigslist revealed that not only were there NO sellers, but people were willing to pay $100 a ticket. Holy hot ticket. I held out hope that all the music karma I’ve put into the universe would come back to me — I’d get a ticket at the last moment on Craigslist or something. I was not disappointed.
I’d seen Freelance Whales before (they’ve been to Chicago at least three or four times in at least as many months) but I was starting to figure that my anticipation of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was more than deserved. I didn’t know if they’d been here before, but I suspected this was more than Lolla after-show hype. This was going to be something. What exactly, I had no possible way of knowing.
Freelance Whales started things off on a crowded stage filled with all manners of drum, keyboard, harmonica, glockenspiel and guitar. The five-piece, who hail from Queens, bring an instant energy to the stage — dancing and hopping along with the music as they play. Their enthusiasm is contagious and it’s hard not to be caught up in it all. The music is filled with contradiction; it’s both organic and electronic, it’s orchestral and synthesized. They manage to channel The Decemberists, XTC and The Postal Service (Judah Dadone’s vocals often are reminiscent of Ben Gibbard). But with their five-piece harmonies coming in big and bold on so many of the songs, as well as their obvious talent for songcraft, I suspect that one day people will eventually say that other bands “sound like the Freelance Whales.”
However, the night was yet to reveal itself. As the Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros show started, I looked up and there were instantly 10 people on stage. I counted. I counted them again. And the leader of them all was Alex Ebert, otherwise known as Edward Sharpe. His beard and hair along with white suit instantly evoke a picture of Jesus Christ, and the way he came forward to the stage to let the crowd embrace him, laying hands on him with a wild fervor did nothing to disabuse me of that visual. As the band started up and I re-focused my eyes back on the tableau of the stage, I was struck by the new visual that struck me: Partridge Family. Manson Family.
The band started and the crowd went wild. They were hopelessly, completely, instantly taken with this band, this man. They were disciples. They would have done anything he asked. Perhaps they were just hungry for the live presence; Edward/Alex said that he thought they had only been to Chicago two times before he announced that he “wanted this to be a party, and it didn’t feel like a party” so he crossed over the stage and got into the middle of the crowd to sing. He was Devendra, he was Brian Jonestown (without the anger and the meltdowns), he was completely wonderfully riveting and mesmerizing and I, too, would have followed him anywhere.
There have been musicals made from Billy Joel songs, from ABBA songs, from Green Day songs. I thought to myself: I want to make a musical from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros songs*. There was always so much going on and so much to think about. Often, I had the sense that I was at a tent revival; the only things jarring me from that notion were the smells of pot and incense swirling around me at any given moment. Aurally, there were two drummers, two guitarists, a bassists, a keyboardist, a pianist, various percussionists and always “Edward” at the helm and sometimes joined on lead vocals by Jade Castrinos who had her own huge, commanding voice.
Even when they performed their most commercial song, “Janglin'” (it’s literally in a car commercial that’s played all the time), it didn’t feel over played. Instead, I believed them when they sang:
Well your wartime is Funny
Your guns don’t bother me
I said we’re out to prove the truth of
The man from Galilee
Well your laws are for Dummies, yes
Your institutions dead
I say we’re out to blow the trumpet
To wake you all from bed – from bed
It was so much — Neil Diamond, Elvis, Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, the Mamas and the Papas. It was a gospel service, it was a hootenanny, it really was a big old party. I was completely surprised and thrilled and sold on whatever they weren’t selling. I didn’t ever want it to be over and I can’t wait for it to happen again.
*Apparently, they’re on it: According to WIkipedia, “On June 5, 2009, the band released “Desert Song”, a music video which is part 1 of a 12-part feature-length musical. Part 2, “Kisses Over Babylon” was released November 24, 2009 through Spinner.com.”
Editor’s Notes: Our thanks to Jocelyn Geboy for writing this piece for Sound Citizen. Another note — this was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, no joke. Those late-night discussions where you list your “top five of all time” … firmly planted. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros just make me freaking happy. And I like that.
Below are a few videos. I recommend watching all of them. The third video is an up-close view of Alex’s foray into the crowd during 40 Day Dream, the opening song of the set. Start that one at the 1:30 mark and keep watching … IT’S WORTH IT.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, “Home”
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, “Janglin”
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, “40 Day Dream” (start at 1:30)
Freelance Whales, “Hannah”