By Michael Corcoran
Editor’s note: This article was originally published September 5, 2013
That lead singer Alex Ebert based his alter ego Edward Sharpe on a diabolical religious figure of his own imagination was gloriously emphasized Wednesday night at Stubb’s when a lightning storm announced the arrival of the 11-piece band from Los Angeles. But when Ebert, dressed in his customary desert-wandering white ensemble, stepped up to the mic, the sinister turned relaxing.
"What do you want to hear?" he asked, as his motley crew of music makers took up their accordions, trumpets, keyboards, drums and guitars with huge "this is gonna be fun" smiles. Ebert and his therapeutic sidekick Jade Castrinos kept the sold-out crowd of 2,100 involved all set, handing the mic to a front-rower to improvise a verse of "I Don’t Wanna Pray" and then handing the accordion to another superfan on the monster hit "Home."
To play off the faux faith theme, I came to Stubb’s as a skeptic and left as a believer. It’s just pretty near impossible to not have a good time at a Sharpe show, with its New Orleans street vibe and "Godspell"- like sing-alongs. The band took requests and then played the ones shouted out that were on the setlist, yet the show maintained a spirit of spontaneity. "We have four minutes left," Ebert said at 10:56 p.m., then after much jabbering with the crowd, he and Castrinos sang the touching "Brother" from the 2009 debut LP, and the voices breaking from emotion were real.
Just before that moment, Ebert and his zen Arcade Fire were thumping crazy on "Home" and a couple of tourists — older, overweight, walking shorts — just outside the venue stopped in recognition. "Hey, I know this song!" They bobbed happily until the song they probably know as "Alabama Arkansas, I do love my Ma and Pa" was over and then headed on up to the Marriott. That song, with the little girl getting mega-millions of YouTube eyes on her precious cover, is all most folks know of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. But the devoted inside Stubb’s had many other favorites, especially "Jangling," the band’s biggest production number, and the hypnotizing Castrinos lead on "Fiya Wata." The opening triplet of "40 Day Dream," "Man On Fire" and "I Don’t Wanna Play," meanwhile, had the clump in front of the stage pogoing in sheer delight.
With a new self-titled album to promote, the band stuck primarily to familiar songs from the first two albums. Keeping the groove going was more important than selling a few downloads.
Being an act of cult popularity is where this band needs to stay. If they become as big as their former touring mates Mumford and Sons, ES&MZ will also be as hated. They’re a little corny. But you can’t knock the connection they have with their diehards, many of whom brought their toddlers. No place for hate with this lot.
Because of nature’s strobe light, opening act Willy Mason was hustling onstage just as the doors opened at 7 p.m. and then hustled off 10 minutes later. During the 90-minute wait before the headliner, there were heavy concerns, no doubt, about the weather. A football game would’ve been called off with all that lightning. But following the recorded sounds of Sam & Dave’s "Hold On I’m Coming," the band took the stage and whatever was going on outside Stubb’s didn’t matter.
Setlist, Sept. 4 Stubb’s
"40 Day Dream"
"Man On Fire"
"I Don’t Wanna Pray"
"That’s What’s Up"
"When We Were Young"
"If I Were Free"
"All Wash Out"
"Tell It On the Mountain (I’m On Fire)"
"Life Is Hard"
"Up From Below"