Anyone awaiting the second coming only had to snatch up tickets to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros‘ sold out stop in Chicago to see it come to fruition. At least that’s how the sweaty throngs up front treated the streamlined show (a strict curfew, politically-enforced or not, will do that to a sprawling collective). Alex Ebert embodies the band’s mysterious alter ego and channels enough messianic energy to put Ted Neeley out of a job. But, unlike “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a Zeros romp skips over the flagellation and crucifixion and goes straight for the glory of resurrection.
Underneath all the adulation, Ebert is just a guy with a deep, soothing voice prancing around in a pair of cream-colored pajamas and slippers. The mess of hair that covers his face is the skewed akin to a Catholic schoolgirl who can’t be bothered to make herself presentable, and it lends Ebert the air of a commune leader. When he’s not onstage twitching and gyrating to a hidden beat, he lunges into the first few rows of eager fans. They outstretch their arms, toppling over each other just to touch the edges of his garment. He reaches out, trying to make contact with as many hyperventilating souls as possible. It’s not aggressive, but awkward to see such blind devotion — especially since Ebert’s not the one doing all the heavy lifting. He may serve as the center, but his foil Jade Castrinos gives the band its heart.
Unlike so many male/female harmonizers, the two share absolutely no sexual chemistry. They could have shown TV siblings Susan Dey and David Cassidy a thing or two about stifling the electric undercurrent that runs between singing partners. Ebert and Castrinos (and the rest of the gang) may well be the Partridge Family 2.0 for all their brotherly love.
The two moved in opposing orbits on “That’s What’s Up” from the band’s sophomore release, Here. It’s a restless tune steeped in New Orleans funk and wrapped up in a taco shell of twang. Another newbie, “I Don’t Wanna Pray,” shuffled along as a fixating chant to start before erupting into a whimsical carnival sideshow. A large orb hanging from the ceiling reflected a deep orange glow that swept the room up in a feverish haze during their latest single, “Man On Fire.” Less meditative than the recorded version, the song finds Ebert singing about getting the whole world to dance with him. The Riv may only hold a fraction of the Earth’s population, but his hippie wish came true. “If You Wanna” didn’t make the album, but the swaying composition got its moment in the spotlight. Grounded by a tinkling bit you’d hear wafting out the swinging doors of an old saloon, you’d be forgiven for hallucinating can-can girls, with alluring petticoats and feather plumes jutting out of their heads, sitting atop the ol’ piano.
Carryovers from the band’s 2009 debut, “Home,” and “40 Day Dream” surged with a newfound intensity that was sorely lacking during last summer’s Dave Matthews Caravan set. Pummeled by a lengthy tour, the band ended the final leg of that jaunt with a whimper. Rejuvenated, Sharpe twirled as if possessed by an unknown force during “Om Nashi Me.” In a build-up befitting the last selection in an encore-less, 80-minute show, the song grew like the Grinch’s twee heart until it burst, raining good vibes down from heaven.
– Janine Schaults
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