Somehow, barefoot, I had made my way into the Hollywood Bowl. Not being familiar with Los Angeles or aware of the shell-shaped theater that is set amongst the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills, it came to my attention on a spontaneous trip to L.A. that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros would be headlining a show there the next day. Attempts to buy a ticket on Craigslist fell through. I decided, after meditating amongst some sparse foliage on the outskirts of an asphalt lot, that’d I go anyway.
As I neared the amphitheater that opened in 1922 and has since hosted greats Louis Armstrong, Elton John, the Beatles and Philip Glass, I made a detour into a park. I asked amongst a younger, friendly group if they’d any extra tickets. They didn’t, but after exchanging handmade jewelry, a few beers and stimulating conversation about the freak folk movement—a genre that expands on traditional folk instrumentalism and songwriting as a facet of what has been classified as the New Weird America—the group collectively decided they’d get me in, somehow.
We found someone selling an extra ticket on the way to the venue that the crew generously exchanged $20 or so for. I entered the amphitheater, and after being sidetracked by ESMZ’s front man Alexander Ebert’s lo-fi, self-produced solo album Alexander, and their 2012 record Here—I realized I’d misplaced the ticket. There was only one thing to be done: beeline for the lower box seats.
The folks in the neighboring seats were welcoming, and explained that a family had come, seemed disinterested in the heavily experimental jazz opening band Sun Ra and promptly vacated their floor-level seats. Surprisingly, even though dancing wildly while most chose more sedentary enjoyment, I went unquestioned by staff.
The massive stage rotated as Sun Ra finished up their electrifying set, revealing ESMZ’s platform, vegetated with a menagerie of instruments. It was summer of 2013, just four years after Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s had released their album Up From Below featuring their massively successful single, “Home.”
They performed songs primarily from their eponymous album released just weeks before, opening the set with “Man on Fire,” a tune that crescendos from a Johnny Cash-like storyline, to a tambourine-laden chorus with deeply layered vocals and instrumentalism by the then 12 piece group—now in a more wieldy 10-member form.
Singer Jade Castrinos—who exited the group amongst a wash of convoluted information less than a year later—wore a shimmering gold dress, the princess Belle of Hollywood on a night that the group played for their hometown at one of the most revered and historic venues. Ebert, in his most authentic form, wore a low-cut and tattered white shirt and non-descript brown pants.
The music had a similar shimmer as Castrinoses golden garb, both metallic yet soft and fluttering—a big band quality with a psychedelic flare, that pairs like cheese and wine with the opening group, Sun Ra. While different states of matter altogether, both are sublime in a way that Frank Zappa could attest to—a fully body of notes that meld into a fermented, organic taste—maintaining a lucid platform of instrumentalism and cosmic philosophy on social aptitude.
Ebert, who once headed a power-pop group Ima Robot, and posted on ESMZ’s Facebook page after David Bowie’s passing “Before I had a voice, I used David’s,” transitioned from a time of heavy drug use that he described himself in a Paste Magazine interview as being “snarky,” “sardonic,” “sarcastic” and “obnoxious,” to what has now become a basis for self-love and the creation of more intricate song progressions: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Ebert has maintained a knack for writing catchy tunes he had an inclination for even in his drug-induced Ima Robot phase with tracks “Lovers in Captivity” and “Greenback Boogie.”
One key question, as with any musician or artist early in their career, is directed at ESMZ’s ability to continue producing music that appeals to their broadening fan base. At shows the group is regularly heckled by audience members screaming “Where’s Jade,” or simply “Jaaaade,” while as a whole the group has sought to move beyond the Jade-Alexander era—releasing their first Jade-less album, PersonA, on April 15th—still speckled with gems.
Ebert, having won a Golden Globe for his score of Robert Redford’s film All Is Lost, is becoming more recognized and in some cases, more unreachable. ESMZ’s management team politely passed on an interview request from Flag Live, not citing a particular reason, but ostensibly to give the group some uninterrupted time as they prepared for four months of touring tentatively set to end in Brazil mid-November.
In a debut of PersonA just prior to its release on Seattle KEXP radio station, Ebert described the group as moving into an era of “professional unprofessionalism,” maintaining their ragged, humble sound, while trimming the frayed edges. Ebert further explains in a statement made publically available:
“We had long been a social experiment first, musicians second,” Ebert says. “Over time, though, we were emerging, by virtue of hours spent, into a group of musicians who could really play together. When Jade left, that confirmed our new fate—music first.”
The album breathes both the raucous and gentle folksly flavor that some have built an insatiable appetite for with songs like “Free Stuff” and “Somewhere.” While these tunes are reminiscent of the more simple compositions on Up from Below, tracks “Hot Coals,” “No Love Like Yours” and “The Ballad of Yaya” are steeped in caffeinated musical arrangements and compelling lyrical flavors.
The group, who symbolically cross out “Edward Sharpe and” on the latest album cover, signifying unity and cohesiveness on the record, are more than just a “Man on Fire.” They’re instead a bed of “Hot Coals.” Whether these are walked on barefoot, or not, is up to the listener.
Join Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros Wed, June 8 with L.A.-based indie-rockers, Harriet, opening the stage at the Orpheum Theater, 15 W. Aspen. Doors for the all-ages show open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at Aspen Deli, Rainbow’s End or Anima’s Trading Co, as well as online at www.orpheumflagstaff.com. For more, call 556-1580. Learn more about the band at www.edwardsharpeandthemagneticzeros.com.