Up from Below, the debut full-length album from the ecstatic Los Angeles musical cult known as Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, is in many ways a revelation. The group’s aciddrenched science-fiction is a welcome throwback for older hippies (reformed and not) who loved psychedelic concept albums like Jefferson Starship’s spacey 1970 classic Blows Against the Empire, the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and even David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.
The Magnetic Zeros’ music is pure (and uplifting) gypsy folk, but much of the communal band’s charm is not that this eccentric troupe (who introduce themselves as fictional characters even in their official press release) effectively imitate the sounds and appearances of the bygone era that spawned both the Manson Family and the Laurel Canyon songwriter scene. The real story is actually more captivating and profound than the Magnetic Zeros’ straight-faced, musically enhanced claim that their frontman Edward Sharpe is a messiah “sent down to Earth to heal and save mankind.”
The appeal of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros is not just that their catchy Mamas and the Papas/ Jefferson Airplane-esque tunes like “Home” and “Desert Song” effectively reenact the dark side of the ’60s like Yeasayer interpreting Tommy. What’s really surprising is the ensemble’s ability to enrapture listeners into enjoying a make-believe world where a messiah named Edward Sharpe has materialized to “wake you all” and reveal “all that you need to see,” which is presumably in the desert somewhere.
But wait, who is Edward Sharpe? Basically, former Ima Robot frontman Alex Ebert went through a bad breakup, entered Alcoholics Anonymous, experienced what you might call a psychological crisis, and emerged with a story and a vision for a band. Initially touring the U.S. in 2007 with a school bus a la Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, the dozen-member Magnetic Zeros have become a left-field sensation with Ebert at the helm as Edward Sharpe. Their music is more powerful and interesting than you’d imagine from such a madcap outfit — sort of like Arcade Fire meets Jesus Christ Superstar — and Ebert is curiously mum about the whole fantasy/role-play angle in interviews, sticking to explanations of his creative rebirth.
“I was at a place where I was becoming disconnected and needed life badly,” he told the Austinist this fall. “I remembered back to when I was a child, my heroes then, what I wanted to be, and the music my father would play when taking me on these long road trips ’cross the West. It all culminated in a giant upheaval and shift to the grander and golden aspirations of my childhood.”
Enter Edward Sharpe and the grandiose psychedelic folk of the Magnetic Zeros, who have thrived at staying in character as far as we can tell, putting on trailblazing Polyphonic Spree-type concerts that have made their current tour a huge success.
Impressively, Ebert & Co. were humble enough to hire an opening act that may put on an even better show than they do. The Magnetic Zeros have brought along fellow L.A. residents Fool’s Gold, a rather large collective who juxtapose infectious African soul melodies and rhythms with ’80s dance vibes and inspirational vocal workouts that happen to be sung almost exclusively in Hebrew. Frontman Luke Top told the Village Voice recently that Fool’s Gold originally wanted to embody what he calls “international pop music.” Surprisingly, he told Boulder Weekly that the idea had nothing to do with Paul Simon.
“Paul Simon has had very little direct influence on me, as far as I am consciously aware of,” Top noted. “I have seen The Graduate a ton of times, though! We’re at a place where influences just find a way to reveal themselves on their own terms. There is a special kind of magic that happens between the band and audience, and it is utterly addicting.”
Fool’s Gold’s eponymous debut is a dance-party on disc, and full-time members include indie veterans from the Fall, We Are Scientists and Foreign Born. As for the euphoric live shows that Fool’s Gold is becoming notorious for, Top claims the group’s creative outlook on performing is pretty organic, although they’ve been enlightened by everything from MTV to the NBA.
“We hope to be selfless and truthful to ourselves while we perform,” he said. “We try to shed our inhibitions and fully submit to the music in the reality of the moment. I think sometimes the audience is able to tap into that energy and push themselves a little bit too.”
Top couldn’t think of a modern musical artist whose performances informed what Fool’s Gold does live, but said he’s “certainly watched a ton of Adam and the Ants and Smiths videos. And the great Kanda Bongo Man. And Colorado’s own Carmelo Anthony dancing through the air in crunch time.”
Fool’s Gold songs like “Ha Dvash” and “Yam Lo Moshesch” fit nicely between lines previously drawn by Orchestra Baobab and Simon’s Graceland (whether intentionally or not), with a hint of Kirtan for spiritual flavor.
“This is, at the end of the day, music to feel and to dance to,” he explained. “Generally, people will connect to our music viscerally first and then might dig into the cultural questions later. I feel very fortunate for that. It is a really beautiful thing when people who might not speak the language are singing along. To me it’s the ultimate form of trust and acceptance.”
Adam Perry writes a music-related blog called Beautiful Buzz at www.adamperrywrites.wordpress.com
On the Bill
Edward Sharpe and the Magentic Zeros plays the Boulder Theater on Tuesday, Dec. 1. Doors at 7 p.m. Fool’s Gold opens.
Tickets are $17. 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.