Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros rekindled the free-spirited essence of the ‘60s Thursday night at Asheville’s Orange Peel with nostalgic anthems of independence and sticks of incense. If the audience turnout and reaction to the band was any indication, Asheville never needed rekindling in the first place.
The band’s first set instantly brought me back to just 15 minutes before the concert started. The pre-show background music featured several Talking Heads songs from their afrobeat-influenced Remain in Light, and was an uncanny introduction to the way Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros conducted the first set. A single instrument would start off a jam with a simple rhythm, and other instruments would join with increasingly complex rhythms. Vocal harmonies acted wholly as an instrument and arose as repeated chants. Once established, the improvised beats gave way to danceable, post-punk-meets-folk grooves. It was unabashed experimentation in front of a sold-out crowd; it was musical confidence.
The band returned from intermission with their recognizable repertoire of neo-folk songs. The band’s hit “Home” immediately captivated the audience and managed to get even more people dancing. The parallel to the Talking Heads continued as Jade Castrinos shared all the quirkiness of David Byrne, with her giddy arm-flailing and unquestionably distinct voice. The audience loved it: clapping and foot-stomping came along without instruction or hesitation.
Between songs, the group wasn’t afraid to share their philosophy. If the lyrics passed you by, “We are one” and similar mottos of unity and concord could be heard every time the group paused for banter. It probably came across as a bit cultish to those not acclimated with the peace-love-and-harmony culture, but the Magnetic Zeros’ Kool-Aid is the type that’s good for you. The band was so genuinely inundated with happiness that their high-fives, hugs and smiles seemed to be sent overflowing to the audience.
The hippie-jargon might have been a turnoff for some, but one topic truly energized the crowd: Asheville. The Orange Peel gave lead singer Alex Ebert more of a bellowing roar than a welcome when he admitted it was the band’s first time here. His response was equally flattering: “You guys are so fucking beautiful.” The audience couldn’t get enough — after literally begging for one of the band’s traditional street performances, Ebert settled on a cross-legged seat in the crowd as the place to perform the second encore.
With Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the “fourth wall” between the audience and the stage exists as nothing more than a societal construct — and like any good band of free-spirits, they tore it down.