Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros get colorful at the Greek

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros kicked off the second leg of their 2012 tour Friday night in Berkeley, showing off their super-charged lighting setup they’ve added this year. For a band that was known for their minimalism – they used to tune their own instruments and dress more like hobos – their new lighting setup is a needed upgrade if they are going to fill stages like The Greek Theatre in Berkeley. The mega-ball hovering over the stage literally fills that space, and the addition of massive lighting rigs and smoke machines show the investment put into this group since their breakout hit ‘Home’ exponentially gained popularity from 2009 to 2011.

The show was visually driven by color phases, as the first half hour was red, then it moved on to yellow, then to green, and to blue, and finally to purple. The cover of their 2012 album ‘Here’ features a rainbow in a circle, so they’ve embraced the color spectrum as an aesthetic guide. They are probably big fans of rainbows in general.

The lighting and pervasive coloring of the stage added to the dreamy and airy feeling, but the overall simplicity & lack of quick changes in the lighting made some songs washed out and dull – particularly in the middle part of the set. Alexander made a habit of staying at the front of the stage, near the crowd, keeping his face mysteriously out of view.

The Berkeley show covered the best songs from the two Edward Sharpe LPs and Alex Ebert’s solo album from 2011 “Alexander.” The show began with the best track from the new album “Man on Fire,” and Alexander immediately showed his love for close crowd proximity. He walked onto the stage in his patented daze, then directly into the crowd as if it was destiny.

View full photo gallery at the showbams facebook page.

Mr. Sharpe kept the strong opening going with fan favorites ’40 Day Dream,’ ‘Janglin,’ and a standout track from the new album ‘Fiya Wata,’ which puts the spotlight on Edward Sharpe’s partner in crime Jade. After five or six songs, Alex, Jade & a couple bandmates discussed what they wanted to play next – and after deciding, Jade erupted in joy like child getting a new toy. Sharpe announced this would be the second time they would be playing the forthcoming song. It looked like Jade had found the remedy to road-weary repetition, but the tour is just kicking off. The troupe has been in the studio crafting their 3rd album, even though they just released their second LP “Here” in May.

Alex Ebert, aka Edward Sharpe, is as free-spirited as ever. His spur of the moment stage banter is as consistant as always, and he continues to be a strong frontman who has perfected the ability to draw the audience to him with his ‘I don’t give a fuck’ hippy persona he puts on. He never approaches a song with a pre-conceived agenda – which is refreshing. He asked what we wanted to hear, and no one responded quickly enough, so Sharpe said “You want to hear the Truth!”

The band started a stripped down version of Alexander’s 2011 song ‘Truth’ when Sharpe’s whistling began. The song sounded more angelic and spiritual with the Magnetic Zero’s backing, adding soft layers of sound to give a different take on the track.

The middle section of the show got a bit slow, with lesser known songs and an even slower tempo dominating the song selection. Then Edward asked the crowd if they were ready to pick it up.

“Let’s wake up. Wake up time. Only eight more hours,” Ebert said. The audience perked up, but little did they know they were about to expereince a 17-minute version of ‘Awake My Body’ from “Alexander.” It worked for a while, but then became a drawn out exercise as Edward passed the solos around the horn endlessly. It was mercifully ended by Sharpe when he said, “Hey I remember something,” and he kicked into the outro with the drummers.

Then a slow bongo beat revealed itself to be the beginning of ‘Home,’ and everyone perked up. When it got to the back and forth song banter that Alex & Jade must absolutely hate doing by now, they asked each other “What did you do today?” Boring. I think they even thought they were being boring. In recognition of this, Edward threw the microphone out into the crowd for some spur of the moment randomness. It felt inevitable that a drunk frat boy would plug his Greek or an earthy chick would discuss mercury retrograde, but a young man with a british accent professed his love for his girl, and it was very charming. The young voice, full of life and enthusiasm, stole the song from the people on the stage. This spontaneous moment was one of the most memorable parts of the night.

The troupe finished with a drawn out ‘Om Nashi Me,’ the mantra-heavy song Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros often finish with. They built it up and broke it down a couple times, and departed without an encore.

Overall, the set felt a bit stale, even with the visual upgrades. Most of the band lacked energy & looked road-weary or somehow subdued. The new songs were generally slow, which kept the energy low and hazy.

Upon leaving the venue, a group was in front of the Greek playing a pop-up show. They were a bluegrass band with a washboard player for percussion, and they were covering the Edward Sharpe song ‘Up from Below’ with an upbeat Mumford & Sons take. People were dancing and having fun, and it was the first time of the night music sounded fresh.

After seeing Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros in a minimalist setting two years ago, playing their hearts out to make it big, their brand of folk pop is harder to swallow since the Toyota and Best Buy commercials have homogenized their sound. I hope they’re hitting the studio hard to craft another triumphant album like their self titled debut album – the next groups are right behind them getting hungry.

View full photo gallery at the showbams facebook page.

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