Fans attending Sunday’s performance by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the Varsity Theater were treated to a night of seemingly endless waiting. Not only did the doors open 40 minutes behind schedule while hundreds shivered outside, but the lengthy soundchecks and time between sets made it a four-hour show, of which less than two hours were actually music. Luckily, when there was music it was generally spectacular; anything less and the venue might have had a riot on its hands.
LA rockers Local Natives started things off (after a 30-minute soundcheck) and were well received despite the wait. The band wandered a bit back and forth between discordant musical experimentation and vocal harmony folksiness. While none of the members were especially strong singers, the group’s instrumentation was intriguing, especially the multiple drum rhythms.
Another 40-odd minutes of stage prep/soundchecking and another West Coast band, Fool’s Gold, took the stage. After quelling some extreme feedback issues, the enormous band proceeded to put on the evening’s most technically adept set. Fool’s Gold are an amalgamation of bands and styles ranging from Latin to West African and then some, and as a whole they like to have a lot of fun. Comprising several Latin American musicians as well as members of American bands (and even a member of English legends The Fall) the band comes off as a bit of a San-Francisco-hippie-meets-Latin-rocker jam session. While as a whole the band was extremely talented, it was Lewis Pesacov’s jangly guitar playing that stood out more than anything; plus, even in the face of technical malfunction the grinning artist cheered up the whole affair by joking with and encouraging his bandmates.
Fool’s Gold’s set was cut very short, presumably to make up for being behind schedule, which made it all the more frustrating to have to wait yet another 40 minutes for the headliner to take the stage. But when members of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros finally appeared, it was to an absolutely ecstatic audience, many of whom wore rapt expressions that bordered on religious worship. And the band didn’t let anyone down.
The 11-member collective played until very late in the evening, with whirling-dervish frontman Alex Ebert putting every ounce of himself into leading the charge. The hirsute showman had a bit of a messianic presence, walking the stage barefoot and blessing various members of the audience with his tambourine while the rest of the group whipped itself into a tribal fervor. Even the weaker material from the Zeroes’ debut record Up From Below sounded great, simply through the sheer force of the band’s will. And the strong stuff—namely runaway hit singles “40 Day Dream” and “Home”—were as great as expected, though on the latter Ebert and his right-hand woman Jade Castrinos switched the song’s romantic dialogue for some convoluted remarks about tickling. To end the show Ebert was able to get everyone in the audience to sit (even crouching around him onstage) while the band played a singalong rendition of “Brother.” It was a fitting end to the show: an almost communal experience that brought band and audience together into a happy huddle. And at least there was no wait to go home.