"Wait, this show is sold out?" asked the gentleman in front of me as we neared the front of the line to get into Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the Varsity Sunday night. It turned out he didn't have a ticket. "I just heard one of his songs on the radio the other day and thought I might as well come see the show!"
As unfortunate as this incident was -- I have no idea whether the poor guy ever got in -- I found it enlightening. Sure, "Home" is a catchy enough little number, but I'd been mystified as to why this show sold out days in advance. Now it occurred to me that the people inside probably only knew one or two of the Magnetic Zeros' songs, had no point of reference on Laurel Canyon, and almost definitely didn't realize that there isn't, in fact, anyone named Ed Sharpe in the band.
And so it transpired.
Having missed the opening band (shame on me, I know), I arrived in time to catch the second opener, Fool's Gold. There were no fewer than eight people in this band, including three guitarists, too many percussionists, a saxophone, and even the occasional piccolo.
These guys jammed out real cool and even threw in some Spanish lyrics with their mamba grooves, but I was quickly struck by the fact that our polo-wearing concertgoers -- just a hop, skip, and not even a jump away from Fraternity Row -- didn't seem to know what to do with themselves. There were, of course, vague comments about how great the guitar playing was, but most people awkwardly stood still while others randomly whooped or hollered unintelligibly.
The Zeros, however -- dutifully one-upping the openers by having nine members -- quickly got the room going with their freewheeling hippie shtick. Front man Alex Ebert, dressed garishly in white and wearing his long brown hair up in a bun, worked the crowd slavishly, prompting them on the hand claps and fist pumps they so clearly lived for, his sizable beard inevitably attracting comparisons with Christ.
The '60s white soul of "40 Day Dream" caused mass dancing, with a number of people barging through the crowd to get up front. Immediately after came "Home," the big number that everyone was waiting for and that they all sang along to.
Infectious this pair of songs was but, oh, the fools! The Magnetic Zeros had played their two biggest songs 20 minutes into the set and the audience lost interest precipitously. The situation only became worse when Ebert's mic began cutting out, so by the time he announced the final song he did so with visible frustration and not a few people already heading toward the door.
I was beginning to think this a rather sad conclusion to the evening but old Mr. Ebert had another trick up his sleeve. For the encore, he asked the audience to sit on the floor and invited everyone to join him on stage as he pattered through the campfire singalong "Brother" -- which they were all too willing to oblige him in doing.
A gimmick it may have been, but there was little doubting that that was what the people wanted to see.