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Dear Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros,
Hi. I'm Elke. And, after watching your howling, exuberant, cathartic show at the Beaumont last night in Kansas City, I'd like to humbly submit my request to be in your band. Please? Sure, there are other indie rock bands that may be cooler than you (hey, no offense). They might even let me spit on the crowd, or writhe on the ground and break shit. But very few bands seem to legitimately enjoy themselves on stage -- and hell, I wanna get in on that. I'll even wear suspenders, I swear.
Can't I just bang on a tambourine or something?
No? One of the ten of you already has that covered?
Can you blame me? Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' enthusiasm was catching at the Beaumont last night. With a fervor recalling the sweaty, infectious delirium of a tent revival, Alex Ebert and his collective of freewheeling musicians roused the crowd with the band's ramshackle alt-country.
After openers Dawes left the stage, Ebert and his musical cohorts waited a good 45 minutes to emerge from backstage, leaving the crowd to rustle, drink and peer at the band's stage set, which looked strangely like the Emerald City. It was worth the wait: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros exploded into motion with "40 Day Dream," blasting the packed Beaumont with a hair-raising breeze of ecstatic indie-rock.
It's not hard to write off Ebert and his bandmates as a Summer-of-Love, kool-aid orgy of sorts; but, the music grows out of a place that's genuinely dark and, yes, conflicted. Muse and co-vocalist Jade Castrinos flailed and lolled her head as she howled wounded, lovely harmonies to Eberts' wavering croons, and Ebert mouthed each syllable like he was savoring it. It was the slow, caterwauling soul of a band truly feeling its music.
As much as Ebert's show was a collective joyfest, it possessed the depth and sorrow of a production with a much more complex consciousness than the hippie aesthetic that the band's appearance suggests. After all, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros is Ebert's brainchild, birthed after a breakup, a stint in rehab, and a year sleeping on a blow-up mattress in L.A. It's named after a messianic figure, Edward Sharpe, who Ebert claims was sent to earth to "kinda heal and save mankind...but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love." (The title of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero's debut album, Up From Below, is a succinct summary of the band's message.)
It was refreshing to see a group creating a postmodern pastiche of influences that was free of irony. Sharpe's gospel was genuine; Castrinos' Joplin-like wails were genuine; and, the trumpet player's split-second horn riff from "Ring of Fire" was out of admiration, not sneering disaffection. Even the band's stabs at Southern-fried rock and roll were firey, soulful and completely earnest and unselfconscious (and thank God, because Castrinos' goosebump-inducing belting merits more than a half-assed tribute.)
Inevitably, chatter rose during more introspective moments, like "Black Water," which Ebert prefaced with a mumbled speech about Native American land. (He politely asked the sound guys earlier in the night to raise his vocals, and he was right to: we couldn't understand a damn thing he was saying.) Luckily, a soaring, wailing trumpet socked the chattering crowd right in the mouth, rendering most of the audience speechless. In fact, so many concert-goers were transfixed that they didn't stream out of the Beaumont in teeming herds after the band's silly valentine of a hit, "Home." Instead, Sharpe used the crowd's bouncing energy to catapult the songs into climaxes, harnessing handclaps with drumbeats on "Om Nashi Me," the band's feverish chant of a song: Om nashi me, I will love you forever.
Ebert ended the night on an intimate, storytelling note, asking the crowd to sit with him while he serenaded them with the sweet ballad, "Brother." Like children, the crowd obediently knelt while Ebert's plaintive voice echoed in the cavernous Beaumont.
As for Dawes: though I arrived at 7:45pm, I, too, was stuck in the ridiculously long line that stretched nearly to Westport Coffee House, listening to the honey-sweet sounds of Dawes humming through the Beaumont's walls.