Thursday at Canalside is back!
Well, OK, that technically happened last week. But if you were one of the few brave souls who weathered the cold and rain of the summer’s first show, you surely remember that it wasn’t the ideal start for the Canalside series.
With Thursday’s early downpour, there was reason to worry that week two would be another dour affair. But when the music started at 5 p.m., the sun was shining, the ground was mostly dry and the harbor was already teeming with more people than there were at the end of The Hold Steady’s incredible but unjustly under-populated show last week.
Throughout the evening, hundreds of concertgoers happily strayed from the music to amble around the harbor, chat by the water, play Hacky Sack and share drinks and pizza far from the stage. The free-floating festival atmosphere, the hordes of dancing teenagers, the beer-fueled enthusiasm – all the Thursday staples were back in full force.
It also certainly helped that tried-and-tested Thursday favorites Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a 10-to-14-piece group (depending on the night) that is as much a hippie mini-commune as a band, returned to Buffalo for the third time in four years. When the band played Thursday at the Square in 2011, it was cultivating a small following from its 2009 debut “Up From Below” and its cherished single “Home,” a puppy-eyed duet that every 20-something couple in America has probably imitated.
Since then, the band released its even-better follow-up “Home,” prepared a self-titled third album due in July and amassed a new cult of fans through its free-loving, free-spirited live shows. Judging from the scores of people wearing vintage sun dresses and tie-dye T-shirts Thursday night, Sharpe’s return was welcome.
The opening band The Room unfortunately shares a name with one of the most infamous bad movies of all time, but their songs are solid, and they got the night off to a vigorous start. This seven-piece group has two guitarists and three drummers, and they left their songs open to the whims of their communal spirit. Their short set mostly comprised lean, straight-and-narrow blues, but many of the songs slowly morphed into longer, looser jams, with the band ditching conventional song structures after a few minutes to jump into more freewheeling playing.
Before Edward Sharpe brought everyone back to the Summer of Love, St. Lucia – a one-man project by Johannesburg native Jean-Philip Grobler, who performs with four other players for concerts – gave the evening an ’80s vibe with their throwback dance songs. After an extended sound check, with the band testing synth loops and sound effects over and over again, they finally kicked off with their thumping single “Before the Dive.” Grobler, who looks like Morrissey in brighter clothing, initially tried to get the crowd chanting along to “We Got It Wrong,” with cool results. But as the band continued its array of high-powered synth pop – with a live drummer giving the songs more kick than a drum machine ever could – they gradually won over the minds and bodies of the crowd, which clapped and jumped along to the climatic performance of the single “September.” Grobler, who hasn’t released his long-delayed debut album yet, made the most of his concise repertoire, and the band left the stage after just half an hour – about twice the length of their sound check.
The crowd stretched back to the harbor railings once Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros entered, but true to their bohemian nature, the band still made the show seem intimate. The group – numbering 13 this night – seemed totally, blissfully hazed as they played in front of a starry backdrop.
After their signature opener “40 Day Dream,” bearded frontman Alex Ebert (there is no actual Edward Sharpe – confusing, yes) sat down and muttered, “I just woke up, so that song was terribly appropriate.” After the next song, the ode-to-love “That’s What’s Up,” Ebert looked into the crowd and commented, “This is very, very psychedelic, in a way,” not elaborating. The white-clad Ebert shuffled around the stage and couldn’t resist running into the crowd, as his mild-mannered duet partner Jade Castrinos hung back with her tambourine and ran off-stage during Ebert’s adoring tribute to her, “Jade.”
Every Edward Sharpe song is a call, or a good excuse, for crowd-wide chanting, and the band united its loyal followers in utopian mantras that few other bands could: “I love my God, God made good.”
But they also let their familiar hits wander freely, stretching simple anthems “Up From Below,” “I Don’t Wanna Pray” and, of course, “Home” into 10-minute epics, with the singers whistling and humming for minutes, the backing members improvising new verses and Ebert giving the mic to fans to tell stories and sing their own songs.
The show was part be-in, part playtime. It’s fitting that summer finally came to Canalside this Thursday: As they do for each stop on their magical mystery tours, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros filled the night with their own brand of sunshine.