It's been suggested that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are at the leading edge of a folk/rock renaissance. Others have said that the Los Angeles-based band, which tours and performs as a kind of "ragtag hippie collective," is merely a barefoot retro phenomenon and will fade fast.
What's without question is this: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros made a zillion new fans at the Coachella Festival last month, and will play Bonnaroo in June, and Lollapalooza and the Newport Folk Festival in August.
The band's cross-country tour includes some of the biggest and/or, hippest clubs - Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club, First Avenue in Minneapolis and the Palladium Ballroom in Dallas - and makes a stop here in Savannah at the Trustees Theater July 11.
You'll know when the gang rolls into town - they drive a renovated school bus, painted white, out of which they'll all pile (10, 11 or 12 of them, depending on who's playing that night).
There is no Edward Sharpe. The visionary, frontman and lead singer is Alex Ebert, formerly of the band Ima Robot. He bought the bus off Craigslist for $9,000, after walking away from that lyrical, and marginally successful, punk group (and with a little self-help from AA).
Ebert and his girlfriend, singer Jade Castrinos, began the Magnetic Zeros "organically," by inviting all their friends over and creating new songs in their living room.
The music is infectious, and may include accordion, piano, banjo, trumpet, guitars and whatever else is laying around. It's folk, rock, reggae, pop ... mostly it just has a happy hippie vibe. They all look like they're having a great time.
"What we've been trying to do since the beginning of this climb is to not stray from the beauty and openness that started it," Ebert says. "We want to keep things real and open and adventurous, and be sure the spirit of joy is still in it. It's not about Learjets and hotels. For us, it's actually about the avoidance of hotels."
Long-haired, dark-eyed, charismatic (and vaguely messianic, to be honest), Ebert fronts the live show in the guise of Edward Sharpe, a name he admits he just sort of made up.
The band is in the midst of creating a 12-part rock opera about Sharpe (there are two amazing video clips on their Myspace page) and will release a sophomore album - and perhaps another - this year.
(Sidenote: Magnetic Zeros pianist Tay Strathairn is the son of Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn, who makes a memorable appearance in one of the band's Myspace segments.)
Meanwhile, Ebert says, it's all about the revival-like spirit of the live performance.
"At its best, a live show is completely transcendent," he said in January. "The image I get is breaking through glass or shooting out into the free zone.
"We've played some really nice shows on a quiet level, like in Telluride, Colorado, for example. There was no piano, we were in a 200-person opera house, we had blankets on the floor and we sang the songs lightly, with delicacy. The songs flowered themselves.
"But then we do gusto shows on a variety of nights. Sometimes I'm really communicating with the audience and I'm hyper-engaged. Other times my eyes are closed and I just let it be what it is."
Advance tickets for the all-ages concert are $22 at www.scadboxoffice.com; they'll be $25 day of show.