Whispers echoed around the tunnels, but who am I to arbitrate whether Edward Sharpe and Co’s five night residence at The Old Vic Tunnels was the highlight of live music thus far this year? Unfortunately, this is one of those occasions when words won’t do in describing it. To call it a performance doesn’t really do it justice.

It’s unusual that the setting of a show can add so much to a gig. Bad-asses, bandits, outlaws and futuristic gimps handing out contraband loot at the door, beautifully sleazy burlesque to fawn over at the “Texas Bar” with tequila in hand; fire-eaters, painting, gymnasts, and unusually smiley pallbearers, they were all there and bore witness to it. Should it have worked? Probably not, but, um, it definitely did.

…left the sold-out crowd suitably awe-struck.

As far as the show is concerned, if you’ve heard the album, you already know those undeniably happy, get-up-and-sing-along, almost delirious choruses and the rest. That said, all those people crammed on to one stage, with Alex Ebert‘s unrelenting power and energy, it becomes something else.

Opening with Janglin as Ebert and his merry eight-person-strong ensemble made their way onstage through the crowd, crashing through 40 Day Dream with wild abandon, ending with a largely audience-led rendition of Om Nashi Me which, despite no-one knowing what it means, and lacking in lyrics, left the sold-out crowd suitably awe-struck.

Fuck it, I do sound like an affected, leathery, nostalgic hippy…

Without detracting from the performance itself, I was most struck (and god forbid I don’t sound too affected by the throwback to the 60s, hippy sound of the album) by the smiles that had made their way across all the faces in the tunnels. Maybe this is best demonstrated through a story of a girl I met outside the doors, searching for a ticket from anyone, anywhere. On seeing her inside, she told me she had met one of the band outside smoking a cigarette, told them her dilemma, and just like that, she was put on the guy’s own guest list and told to have a good time.

Probably the only time they will ever meet, but it’s credit to the non-high maintenance, easy-going nature of the group. It’s this sort of thing that makes the group as a whole so endearing. Though the pseudo-messianic nature of Alex’s alter-ego can be fairly grating. Having said that, the dynamic wouldn’t work any other way. Fuck it, I do sound like an affected, leathery, nostalgic hippy…


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