March 15th, 2012, 7:57 pm · · posted by DAVID HALL, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
It was already apparent a couple weeks ago just how special a show at the Observatory could be when a local crowd went uncharacteristically ape for Dr. Dog in the darkened main room of that Santa Ana venue (formerly the Galaxy Theatre). But Wednesday night’s event – the first show anywhere from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zerosin a little more than a year – further re-established that space’s potential for greatness.
Yet, whereas security’s deliberately lax attitude toward crowd-surfing, stage-diving and the like seemed to take Dr. Dog off guard, the feeling of freedom that permeated the intimate room was in perfect harmony with the unfiltered spirits of vocalists Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos and their gang of multi-instrumentalists.
With a setlist evenly comprised of previous favorites off the outfit’s 2009 debut, Up from Below, and new tracks from their sophomore effort, Here, expected in late May (many premiered here), this show teetered on the line between looseness and professionalism without plunging into either extreme.
After the first spirited song, “Janglin,” Ebert took several minutes letting front-row fans say their peace on the mic (“I could swim into your eyes!” one proclaimed). During the next tune, “Carries On,” he asked the crowd for input once more, extending the mid-song jam slightly while fans shouted out suggestions to replace the main lyric (“one love”) with other options (“one drug,” “one life”).
Later on, during a ragtime-esque new cut called “If You Wanna,” Ebert slipped into the crowd itself, singing the melody (distinctly similar in spots to John Lennon’s “Imagine”) at eye-level before climbing back on stage and wondering aloud for several minutes what tune the band should play next. (He repeatedly admitted he couldn’t remember the lyrics for many.)
Casual fans might have been annoyed by this unabashed aloofness. But one got the sense – looking around at the adoring expressions plastered on the audience’s faces – that nearly everyone in the room was such a huge supporter, enamored and charmed by the band’s mistakes and improvisations rather than irked, that the Magnetic Zeros could do no wrong.
They struggled a bit with some new material, however. During a song Castrinos led with a simple banjo line and lead vocals, other members’ vocals constantly trailed off. Yet she simply gave those errors a positive spin, encouraging her bandmates without skipping a beat to “come back in” with the vocals and “have fun with it!”
Other new cuts resonated with fine-tuned freshness, including the Jade-sung “Fire Water (River of Love)” and “I Love My God,” performed in a close huddle that mirrored images of a Southern family singing gospel tunes on the front porch. Both were evidence that the collective’s forthcoming record should be something more than a redundancy of its acclaimed predecessor.
Though these new tracks were a pleasure to hear, especially in such organic form (I expect the gorup’s debut at the Greek Theatre on May 4 will be much tighter all around), it was the song that blazed the Magnetic Zeros’ trail to stardom, “Home,” that stood out as the evening’s pinnacle moment. Yes, it’s horribly overplayed now, but it never fails to have a galvanizing effect when performed live – so much so in Santa Ana that a hundred or so fans bombarded the stage during its first chorus without any prompting or invitation.
There they stayed through the night’s final selection, “Om Nashi Me,” chanting and flailing along while the neo-bohemian stars simply exchanged gleeful smiles. It was a peaceful and pure free-for-all, the sort that could only happen at an unencumbered locale like the Observatory – a finish that was fully appropriate for Edward Sharpe’s return to eminence on the local music scene.
Setlist: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros at the Observatory, Santa Ana, March 14, 2012
Janglin / Carries On / I Love My God / If You Wanna / Fire Water (River of Love) / 40 Day Dream / Up from Below / Black Water / *new song* / *new song* / *new song* / Latarian Milton / Truth (Alexander cover) / Child / *new song* / Home / Om Nashi Me
Unavailable titles of *new songs* likely to appear on second album Here, due May 29.
Photo also by David Hall, for the Register.
More O.C. Nightlife:
- Slideshow: Jeramiah Red, Davis Fetter and more at the Copper Door.
- Orange Pop: Blank Tapes’ Matt Adams comes home
- Slideshow: Micah Brown’s Constellation Room residency heats up
- Slideshow: DJ Who with Paulo da Rosa and DJ Bizzy at Silk
- Review: The Pretty Reckless gets wild in the Constellation Room
- Review: Guns N’ Roses at Hollywood Palladium
- Interview: Reunited Beach Boys talk about returning to O.C.
- Review: Flogging Molly rips it up at the Grove