Despite having stopped through Santa Barbara four times in the past 12 months, it seems Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros still have plenty of tricks up their collective sleeves. Since releasing their debut disk, Up From Below, last July, the L.A.-based collective have gone from side-project (lead singer Alex Ebert also moonlights as the frontman of Ima Robot) to veritable indie rock sensation. And the reason is all in the live show.
The ever-fluctuating lineup took to the stage at the Lobero last Friday with yet another addition: pianist/backup/opening act vocalist Aaron Embry. The young songwriter spent a good three hours on stage throughout the night, first as a solo act, then alongside the entire Magnetic Zeros clan for a group he dubbed “We Are Each Other.” Working as the frontman for the night’s headliners, Embry dished up a powerful and buoyant mix of new tunes that called to mind both Rufus Wainwright and the always-colorful Mika in arrangement and delivery. His as-yet-unnamed set-ending rocker proved to be one of the night’s many highlights, with the 10-piece riffing around an apropos chorus of “Every part of you is just another part of me” to an enamored sold-out crowd.
With the crowd good and primed, the Zeros took a short respite, then returned—Embry in tow—for their next onstage stint. With a general admission setup, the Lobero proved to be the perfect next step for the band, which had already sold out SOhO (twice) and played to thousands at this year’s Extravaganza fest in UCSB’s Harder Stadium. In addition to a stellar sonic mix, the theater gave fans the chance to choose between climbing into the sweaty throngs that surrounded the stage, or laying low in the back to simply soak it all in.
Set opener “Janglin’” acted as the jumping off point for the Zeros’ now-reputable live act, showcasing the band’s big harmonies and impressive arsenal of instrumentation. With two guitarists, two drummers, a synth, a piano, a bass, a trumpet, and a collection of auxiliary toys (accordions, xylophones, tambourines, shakers), the group charged through album favorites like “Up From Below,” “40 Day Dream,” and “Carries On” to an audience that seemed dead set on out-belting the band. Lucky for us, Ebert’s signature Johnny Cash-meets-David Bowie croon was able to rise above—and play off—of his fervent fans’ enthusiasm.
While the sheer balance of the Zeros’ over-the-top instrumentation (finally heard pristinely in the hands of the Lobero’s sound crew) plays a large part in the band’s magnetism, it’s the dynamic between Ebert and frontlady Jade Castrinos that ultimately pushes the band’s live show to such soaring heights. Swapping center stage duty for the Appalachian-style folk number “Fiya Wata,” Castrinos morphed into a vocal powerhouse, singing and swaying with the gusto of a gospel singer as the capacity crowd cheered her on. At the end of the night, perched atop a chair in the Lobero’s fourth row, Ebert countered with the quiet and resonating “Brother,” proving that at their loudest highs and their quietest lows, Edward Sharpe’s live show is still a force to be reckoned with.