This originally appeared here on the Ticket Files blog for the Eugene Register-Guard

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros put on quite a show at Portland’s Doug Fir on Wednesday night, but the talent and energy of their first-round opener, Los Angeles five-piece Local Natives, was the ultimate highlight of the night.

Local Natives took the stage in front of a crowd that was no doubt expecting to mingle and chat until Edward Sharpe and his gang of nine came out to play their set. Instead, the audience at the Doug Fir was stunned by the beguiling layered-folk sound of Local Natives.

The band’s soaring harmonies, crisp guitar work, and incessant percussion had the crowd dancing along by the second song. Their cover of Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign” is debatably better than the original, with three of the members singing whole verses together with an enviable combination of enthusiasm and precision. When all five band members screamed “Hear my voice. Move my hair. Movin’ it around a lot. I don’t care what I remember,” in the middle of the song, it was clear that the audience was hooked.


This band is nothing if not a giant collaboration. All five members contribute vocals that meld together in seamless harmonies, there are usually at least two members pounding away on the drums, and members trade spots and instruments like it’s a game of musical chairs. Local Natives ended their unfortunately short set with the energetic and dance-worthy “Sun Hands,” from their upcoming full-length release Gorilla Manor. The song combines a catchy guitar riff, the ever-present beats and clacks of drum sticks, and all five voices shouting a fervent chorus. With help from some extra friends, the band had five people on various drums as the song descended into pure rock ‘n’ roll abandon before coming to a close with another harmonized chorus.

Judging from the hoots and hollers, I would say that the crowd got more than they bargained for an opening act. The band left the stage and boy, were people talking. An obviously surprised audience member asked me, “Wait, they were the first band?” in confusion. The buzz in the room was a collective “Wow, who were they?”

The crowd was noticeably excited when it was finally time for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. They have a cult-ish following, which makes complete sense if you’ve ever seen them live, because in fact they are a bit like a cult themselves. Alex Ebert (a.k.a. Edward Sharpe) is their hippie messiah, often only half-dressed and with his long hair tied up into a messy crown on his head. The ten-piece band travels in an old school bus with a driver who is supposedly named Cornfed. They preach about a hippie utopia and their album sounds like it could have been pulled right out of your mom’s collection from 1967.

They got the crowd going with “Janglin’,” one of the band’s best creations and an infectious sing-along. Ebert danced around, shaking his hands like Southern preacher and looking toward the ceiling as his comrades bounced and swayed in the background with their eyes closed. They all looked a little too happy and it made me wonder if there was something in the water that I had failed to drink.

As charming as the ‘60s nostalgia is at first glance, Ebert’s between-song banter was nonsensical and rather off-putting. He complained that it was too cold for him to walk to the market, so he had to float. He also asked if there were any children in the (21-and-over) audience. After a couple mediocre songs that had me straining to understand a word he was singing, the band began to talk amongst themselves and Ebert then said to the audience, “I feel like we should do something weird. Like, go eat some fries and then come back.” At some point it’s hard not to wonder if he is just faking it all.

“Home” is their most successful and catchy song. The crowd clearly agreed and whistled along to the tune. The lyrics “home is wherever I’m with you” are a perfect fit for the song’s sing-along chorus, and the whole band sings them with fervor. Alex Ebert and singer Jade Castrinos sing to each other as if no one else is in the room. Although Castrinos’ captivating voice added some much needed vocal contrast to the song, she frankly creeped me out.

While the band has created three or four songs that successfully epitomize the hippie-collective sound they are clearly going for, the rest ring a bit hollow and are mostly formulaic but less successful plays on the same song. There are so many people and instruments on stage that in many songs everything collides into one big, muffled, mess. Despite the strangeness of the show and several less than enthralling songs, the audience generally seemed to be having a great time. They knew when to sing along, when to clap, and when to dance. So, if you are heading to an Edward Sharpe show anytime soon, I suggest you drink the water first.

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