Alex Ebert must relish in hearing himself talk. If Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes’ early set Thursday night at the Troubadour was compressed in to an hour of network television, Ebert spent at least the time set aside for commercials talking to the crowd. A couple of times it passed as relevant, funny, or tolerable, as some commercials can be. Generally though, it catalyzed the equivalent of channel surfing; one attendee watched cat videos on her phone – really. So what were Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes selling?
The cover art of their new album PersonA conspicuously draws a red line through “Edward Sharpe,” as if to suggest that this one is a product of the collective unit, rather than any one member. However, with no less than 9 bandmates on standby to lay down the Zeroes’ freak folk jazz blend – more on that later – it is curious why Ebert acted more the self-indulgent stage hijacker than front man to a great live band.
In the moments where the group achieved a wholesomely shared focus, their songs reached the heights of the front porch jam bonhomie that made them sorta rich and sorta famous. In particular, two of the new songs had a distinct jazz flavor, each recalling Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” with scatting peppered throughout. “Uncomfortable” saw Ebert executing piano rolls on an upright, while at the apex of “Wake Up the Sun,” he showed off marionette dance moves similar to Gary freaking out in Team America: World Police. When the song ended, he confessed that “It’s hard to get loose at 8 o’clock.”
Two gentler numbers, “Perfect Time” and the aptly-named “Lullaby” exhibited elements of Broadway and Randy Newman. Breezy trumpet blasts had a lulling effect in the former, while Ebert affectionately introduced the latter as a song for his daughters, singing: “How could other mad men meshed in chain, conjure such an angel in my name? Aren’t you the freshness of a dream, if only I could protect you from me.”
One of the best songs on PersonA is the ambitious 7-minute, “Hot Coals”. It begins as moody and pensive, before shifting in to a jazzy strut complemented by start/stop keys and bass. Altogether it is a memorable patchwork quilt, schizophrenic song, cobbled together with a bit of this, and a bit of that, to construct an attention grabbing opening track on album, and a dynamic live piece.
On PersonA, “No Love Like Yours” is mostly forgettable, though at the Troubadour it dropped in to a trance guitar groove that evolved in to a sort of hip hop scat. The outro teased the very familiar “Stayin’ Alive” with echoes of the murky, dirtiness of “Shakedown Street”. All but one song on the setlist came from PersonA, that being “Truth”, a Zeroes live staple that closed the abbreviated, hit-free set.
But in the end, the long diversions between songs were distracting, and interrupted any momentum built up during the actual performances. When he sings “What is a cold blooded mad man to do, with a smile across his teeth, and a chest full of goo?”, it is evident that Ebert must share an appreciation for the lounge lizard absurdism found in Father John Misty’s work. While J. Tillman’s act is surely a put on, it is thinly veiled and executed with a tongue in cheek flair. With Ebert, the sincerity of his intentions remains unclear.
Let It Down
Wake Up The Sun
No Love Like Yours
The Ballad of Yaya