The knock on Alex Ebert and his loveable group of ne’er-do-well gypsies known as Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros has always been that they tend to reappropriate hippie culture and music with an attitude that smacks of pseudo-earnestness, playing dress-up with the dreams of a past generation. But the reason they’re still relevant three years after the phenomenon that was “Home” is because their music is solid. What could have been a gimmick was supported with a fully fleshed out debut and, if the tracks released to the radio are any indication, a follow-up (Here, set to release May 29) that isn’t going to flop. And although they don’t have the social relevancy of those they borrow most heavily from — Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Mamas & The Papas —The Magnetic Zeros do know how to have a good time, with a side of thoughtfulness to boot.
And Saturday’s show at the Santa Barbara Bowl was just that. While not sold out, the venue was packed elbow-to-elbow in the standing floor. Frontman Ebert appeared onstage wearing his trademark cream-colored suit, reaching out to touch the hands of adoring fans and playing his character to a tee. Ebert’s alter ego is the titular character of the group, a Ziggy Stardust-esque figure who, according to Ebert, “was sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind … but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love.” It’s also a spot-on analogy for the group; the Zeros have an element of social consciousness to them, but it’s overshadowed by their good-timey vibe.
Not that that took anything away from their live set. The band played an energy-filled show that easily translated to the crowd. After a quick instrumental they opened with “40 Day Dream,” prompting a grand-scale sing-along. Right before the number, their biggest hit aside from “Home,” female vocalist Jade Castrinos appeared to tremendous applause. She’s easy to like: warm, shy, and with a set of pipes that reaches the cheap seats. She also has more of a presence on the new material, even handling lead vocals on tracks like “Fiya Wata.”
In addition to a wealth of new songs, Saturday’s set included plenty of crowd favorites. When the chorus of “Janglin’” ended with the hypnotic chant of “Edward and the Mag-ne-tic Zeros!” the crowd’s reply was loud and endearing; you almost felt as if you were part of the band or that you could at least hitch a ride with them to somewhere further on down the line. One of the highlights of the night was the rendition of their new single “Man on Fire,” a tune that grows in momentum as it builds toward a crescendo of Ebert and Castrinos’s harmonies.
And then they gave everyone what we wanted and closed with “Home.” The crowd left buzzing. We didn’t march on the Capitol or go Occupy anything, but we went home happy and whistling a catchy tune.