It was around 2pm last Friday when a huge crowd began to gather around Bonnaroo’s Other Tent. As the happy mob swelled and overflowed onto the grassy hillside surrounding the stage it became irrefutably clear that Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros were on a lot of people’s must-see list at this year’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. At 2:30 the enthusiastic crowd welcomed the group to the stage, saving the largest measure of their applause for the appearance of singer Alex Ebert.
Dressed only in loose-fitting white pants with a red scarf around his neck, the rail-thin Ebert rocks the Jesus look with a mop of brown hair messily tied behind his head and a full beard to boot. He asked, “Are there any children in the audience today?” as the band opened their set chanting the playful intro to “Janglin”. The crowd took the cue and eagerly incited the first of many spontaneous sing-along segments in the hour-long set. From the band’s first moments on the stage it was clear this audience knew every song on their fabulous 2009 debut CD Up From Below.
In stark comparison to the CD’s sophisticated production, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros are a glorious shamble on stage. A deft and diverse ensemble of ten, they appear to be barely holding the party together onstage while creating a bouncy and infectious soundtrack to an afternoon of fun in the sun.
When the band launched into “40 Day Dream”, the crowd gasped and swooned. Every hand in the crowd was held high as the audience bounced and swayed to the beat of the song’s familiar intro. Smiles everywhere, the blazing afternoon sun seemed meek and meager in comparison to the glow coming off of this audience as it embraced Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. Finding the crowd’s affection impossible to resist, Ebert leapt from the stage to get closer to them. Perched perilously atop the barricade in front of the stage, he allowed himself to held upright by the extended hands of his adoring audience while he sang to them.
Clearly working without a setlist, the band paused after each song to discuss what they should play next. Apologizing for the delays, Ebert begged the audience’s forgiveness. He needn’t have bothered, as he had them eating out of his hand from the moment he first appeared. The tentative groove of “Come In Please” gave way to the pulsing hypnosis of “Desert Song”.
At stage left is Ebert’s muse, the diminutive darling Jade Castrinos. Dressed for church in white spring dress with her brunette hair in a short bob cut, she seems to be the most unlikely target for Ebert’s amorous advances. But when they look into each other’s eyes and harmonize together it is picture perfect, true love sparks flying all around them.
Swaying in time to the hypnotic music as she sang, her arms waving around at her sides, eyes closed in blissful contemplation, Castrinos is a study in meditative calm. Just as the glow of the crowd had shamed the sun’s rays, Castrinos’ childlike face revealed an adorable grin to beat its warmth.
Without being asked, the crowd raised their voices in the loudest refrain of the day for the Zeros’ ramshackle love-fest “Home”. As on the record, this performance was Ebert and Castrinos’ chemistry at its best. If the pie-eyed piper Ebert had asked, I believe the whole crowd would have followed him to the edge of the earth.