The Deep South has had a long and storied relationship with the tent revival. Fiery, passionate preachers thumped Bibles through “Hellfire and Brimstone” sermons, baptized the masses in local rivers and promised the blessings of God to attendees the likes of redemption and sanctification.
But with the advent of radio, evangelists went the way of mainstream media to convey their messages and the old-time revivals were relegated to a niche of Americana from long ago.
Recently I attended a show by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros in my hometown of Charleston and after taking the show in, “tent revival” was the most prevalent analogy that struck me. Now, stay with me… I promise to bridge the gap between a mass religious ceremony and a modern-day concert.
This particular “revival” didn’t feature religious zealots speaking in tongues and shaking snakes. This particular version featured semi-religious figures speaking through lyrics and shaking hand held instruments. And naturally, the conveyed message was quite different as well.
Born out of Ima Robot lead man, Alex Ebert’s post-addiction program experience, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros can only be described as a troupe of entertainers that gives the same illusion conjured by the likes of Rusted Root or The Polyphonic Spree. It’s an almost cultish, commune on wheels. A “family” of musicians with a common message delivered through song a la a semi-savior figure at the forefront. When Ebert was creating the persona of Edward Sharpe, he envisioned “a messianic figure sent down from Heaven to save and heal mankind… but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love.” Now are you staring to see the connection? No? Well, keep reading.
Ebert (as Sharpe) bounds at the stage front, long hair in a bun with his chin constantly adorned by a long, unkempt beard. He is also usually clad in a long, white shirt (appropriately “a robe”). Lyrically, he leads his “congregation” of musicians (sometimes as many as 18) mainly in a co-joined vocal delivery with Jade Castrinos (who also serves as Sharpe’s love interest within the context of “the show”).
Though we had done a bit of preemptive homework on the band, Kat and I had no idea what we were in for and I feel I can speak for most of the packed house at the Music Farm that night in saying so. The show is nothing short of a spectacle (much the way a tent revival must have been). The vocal interplay between Castrinos and Ebert is immediate on songs like the anthemic “Desert Song” with its strange click and clank instrumentation and “Janglin’” with its plucky backing chorus and piano twinkling. “40 Day Dream” again features Sharpe at the forefront leading the troupe with his off-key vocal delivery and what can only be described as “human percussion”: the intermittent clapping, hoots and hollers from the backing musicians. Finally (and much anticipated) their claim-to-fame track “Home” brought down the house. With Ebert and Castrinos splitting verses back and forth and effectively playing out the lyrical ethos of two people blindly in love, expressing it through verse. At its conclusion, Kat described the whole of the experience as “happiness with horns.”
Sharpe and the Zeros have found a niche; that of a mass-scale production with a minimalist approach. Simple, vintage instrumentation takes the place of modern effects-laden musicality. The songs aren’t polished and pristine. Instead they lend to tendencies of impromptu delivery and improvisation, leading me to believe that Zeros fans have probably never heard their favorite track played the same way twice. “Different” in the best of ways, a breath of fresh air in the scheme of concert-going experiences and a genre-less show that would leave many with an “Amen” thought at its conclusion.
Modern-day revival? Perhaps not in the traditional sense of the word. But, “happiness with horns?” Without a doubt.
by Chris West – firstname.lastname@example.org