Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London on Wednesday 12 February 2014

Looking out upon the stage you can see that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros don't do things by half. There are two drum kits, multiple keyboards, a brass section and a double bass in amongst what is a multi-instrumentalists wet dream. Billed to be on stage by 9PM, the crowd get a bit angst-y as they start a slow clap as it goes ten past the hour.

Soon after, Edward Sharpe (real name Alex Ebert) and his ragtime bunch of misfits receive a hero's welcome as they take to the stage. Ebert dresses somewhere between a hipster and a hobo and it quickly becomes clear this isn't going to follow the usual gig narrative. They played to a sold out Brixton Academy the night before and in tonight's much smaller venue it's clear that it's a pretty cultish crowd in attendance, the proper diehards are here and they want to dance.

He announces it's the last show of the tour so "what do you want to hear?" And this unstructured party vibe is how the night continues to play out. The first request to reach Ebert's ears is the hoedown like 'Janglin' which sees the crowd and the band reciprocate positive vibes. 'Up From Below' acts as a platform for the band to show what they can do with this cavalcade of instrumentation as they shape and structure a deafening crescendo with two drum kits at the heart of the action.

Ebert's wife and musical foil Jade Castrinos takes the mic for the next track and is clearly visibly upset as she asks for a moment of silence for her friend Erin who died recently. It's impeccably observed, especially considering you have two thousand odd people in the mists of alcohol. She pays tribute to her friend with 'All my Trials' a folk song born from the social protest movements in the 60s and made famous by Joan Baez, its stirring, emotional, heartfelt and Castrinos does well to keep her cool.

Although it's a night tinged with sadness for Castrinos, there is also the chance to celebrate the life of her friend and immersing herself in the music and atmosphere of the gig probably helps with that. 'I Don't Want To Pray' can't but help raise a smile as it becomes a very fan-inclusive affair with one lucky punter getting to get up on stage and lay down some harmonica on the track while busting a series of dance manoeuvres with both Ebert and Castrinios. Ebert asks if anyone in the crowd wants to sing a verse and the girl in the front row absolutely nails the vocal much to Ebert's bemusement and the crowd's approval. A few band members get in the action with verses of their own as it becomes one big ad-libbed session.

Ebert is collared by a girl in the front row who pleads for a song as they have to leave soon to catch their last train home. He obliges as they launch into a raucous version of '40 Daydream' which has the frontman saying "this is pretty special" and asks us "do you guys coordinate this stuff beforehand?"

'This Life', an aching gospel-esque piece which sees him shouting "this life ain't for me", is a more sombre affair and offers rest bite for both the crowd and the LA-based outfit.

As we enter the home straight, he clocks the two girls from earlier and asks "weren't you guys supposed to catch a train?" Rumbled or not they'd have been foolish to leave early.

They thank us for coming and are warned about the curfew. The bongos start before it descends into 'Home' which they invite people to tell stories. One woman in particular relays a story about tethered baby elephants being set free and compares it to the feeling she gets from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros music. A touching story that takes Ebert aback before launching full pelt into their best known song, a tune which brings unbridled joy emanating positive vibes back and forth from stage and crowd.

The cultish shtick which followed them about originally has now been pretty much debunked by the band and fans as a marketing gimmick that is best forgetting about, but they've clearly got a charm which makes you want to be part of their group. Tonight was one such night where Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros became a 2,011 piece outfit.

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article by: Paul Mullin

published: 14/02/2014 12:31