If two nights of sold out gigs wasn’t enough of a testament to the popularity of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros in London, the enthusiasm of the fans attending those gigs absolutely was; from the early birds queuing outside the venue for hours to get the best spots, to the tears that were shed during the most intimate moments of the gig, and the joy in everyone’s faces throughout the night. It truly was an atmosphere like none other, and the ‘Islington Assembly Hall’ was a perfect pairing with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros; both have a certain sense of unassuming grandeur about them.
15 minutes late to start, the first melodic notes of ‘Somewhere’ brought front man Alexander Ebert to the edge of the stage, where he made intense eye contact with each and every audience member he could see as he sang. Ebert was a vision of casual cool. He wasn’t dressed in performance garb, he hadn’t tamed his wiry hair, he didn’t dance and move about to impress anyone; indeed he has never once pretended to be anything he’s not. This level of sincerity meant that from the very beginning of the set there was no barrier between himself and the audience. And in fact there was not much of a physical one either, as he leapt about all night, sometimes joining the audience, sometimes getting them to join him onstage. The gig was for all intents and purposes an interactive group experience.
The band itself is formed by a strange collective of rag-tag musicians. It was hard to tell if there was a structure to their live performance or if they were making it up as they went along. And in fact it seemed like a bit of both; Ebert occasionally conducted the band with back turned to audience and cigarette in hand, running over to the keyboard player to indicate how he wanted the key stabs to sound, shaking four fingers when he deemed it time for the song to end.
It was almost as if every song was a finale. Either descending into a cacophony of rambling noise and jamming, or ending with a stripped back version of the original with Ebert and the crowd joined in singing the emotional stories together.
They were taking requests, and the first one shouted out was ‘Janglin’. ‘That’s a good one’ said Ebert as he brought everyone in together to sing the introduction, the feel-good classic bringing happy tears to the eyes of many an audience member.
There were tricks and turns throughout; during ‘I don’t wanna pray’, Ebert jumped into the audience with his microphone, asking various crowd members to add a verse along the way. It worked about as awkwardly as expected, but continued to add to the interactive experience of the night.
It was nice to see the inclusion of the Alexander Ebert solo classic ‘Truth’, which was turned into an intimate and emotional rendition, but unfortunately some of the real guts of the track seemed lost in translation.
Of course, despite the fact that the whole audience appeared to be entranced, engaging with every song during the night, the hit ‘Home’ was still a highlight. If anyone wondered how they would do it without previous band member Jade Castrinos no longer being around, those questions were answered immediately as Ebert gave the crowd the queue for the first line, and continued to do so throughout the song as everyone sang it together. Instead of the conversation part in the middle, Ebert found people in the audience and asked them to tell a story. This whole exercise was perhaps unnecessary, but the audience seemed delighted to once again be such an integral part to the night.
Captions on social media after the gig had one big theme in common; that everyone needs to see Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros live at least once in their life. This night, with us all together at the ‘Islington Assembly Hall’, felt especially important.
This Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros article was written by Jen Taylor, a GIGsoup contributor. Header photo by seanjo22