A couple hours before Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros even took the stage at Sundays KCRW World Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, Zimbabwean musician Oliver Tuku Mtukudzis seven-piece ensemble prompted my concertgoing companion to bill this night as a battle of happiness. With Alexander Eberts band carrying the bill, such a label was both fitting and perhaps even an understatement given the acts kicking off the evenings festivities.
Mtukudzi and his lockstep ensemble were radiant, effervescent, and as genuine a purveyor of joy and appreciative gratitude as you could ask for, a breath of fresh air in the Hollywood setting. Not since Charles Bradley took the Bowl stage two years prior have I witnessed an artist as authentically gracious and beaming as Mtukudzi. Early on, his mission statement was clear, as the front man pronounced: Where we come from, we use music to diffuse tension. Tension released, this was pure, unadulterated musical joy right out of the gate. Happiness quotient high.
Sun Ra Arkestras P-Funk sense of brightly sequined style meshed nicely with the interplanetary jazz the massive collective performed during their set. Notably, a rendition of Charlie Chaplins Smile and a reappearance during Edward Sharpes closing set helped the second of three acts make their mark on Sunday night. Jarring space fusion blended well with more traditional fare as the institution ran through their quick and highly amusing set before a quick stage flip to Edward Sharpe’s set.
Sunday was a homecoming for Ebert’s sprawling collective after a busy 2013 that has seen the colorful company gearing towards an even busier fall in support of their brand-new, self-titled third LP. The visual setup was appropriately stunning and filled out (given the size of the Hollywood Bowls signature shell) with a massive projection screen featuring blurred, 3D-esque imagery and bright backing lights set up onstage. From the opening Man on Fire, it was clear that although members of the (I lost count) massive band would take turns with lead vocals and instrumental duties, this was Alexander Eberts show, and if he couldve embraced and chatted up each of the roughly 14,000 folks in attendance himself, this front man-of-the-people probably wouldve. For starters, Ebert took a visibly unsuspecting crowd member named Luke (wearing khakis and a sports coat not your typical Magnetic Zeros attire, but this was Sunday at the Bowl after all) for a walk around the pit area, giving him a chance to take the mic and join a short dance on a platform towards the end of the tune.
The freak gospel revival theme and vibe was first exuded during I Dont Wanna Pray, off their sophomore album Here, as countless voices onstage repeated the refrain I love my God/ God made me before a bluegrass-y pickin party ensued. In perhaps the moment that produced the loudest crowd reaction of the night, Ebert gave the mic to an extremely talented woman sitting in the champagne-and-caviar seats down below the stage for a fantastic moment of improvisational belting that made me think for a second that Ebert was going to sign her on for the rest of the show as a backing singer.
During Janglin, Ebert took another audience member’s camera up on a tour of the stage (while continuing to sing and banter), producing a nice memory for the attendee to take home (and likely share to a barrage of likes, hearts, and RTs). Ebert dedicated Mother to the many matrons of the band members in attendance and took a seat on the ledge of the stage for a rare breather moment. Jade produced a extraordinarily profound and quiet moment after Ebert sang, You wont soon forget the name.
Ebert and Co. continued calling the setlist on the fly, although it appeared from the structure of the show (see below) that it wasnt entirely off-the-cuff and fans got mostly what they came to see. The show wouldve been splendid without, but wrapping the night with an extensive and participatory Home (complete with storytelling moments in the crowd) with the assistance of Sun Ra Arkestra sent everyone heading for the exits fulfilled.
In this kind of battle, everyone wins.