When you’re a band that’s trying to make it, there are a couple of signs that show how successful you are. For example, you may have a hit single that is being played in radio stations across the country. Or, when you sell out a show in a big market city such as Los Angeles and the demand is so high that a second show has to be added – which also sells out. In this case, it is Denver natives The Lumineers who can be considered this year’s Mumford & Sons – a band that seemingly came out of nowhere, only to make a gigantic impact upon the music scene. And while the former has been quoted as saying that the latter ‘opened doors for them,’ Tuesday night (the second of back-to-back shows) at the Fonda Theater proved why they’re on their own path to success.
But before they took the stage, openers/tourmates/fellow Denver-natives Bad Weather California (read our interview with them here) warmed up a crowd that was still pouring into the venue. While the summer is technically over, their surf rock/punk-tinged-rock-and-roll brought some delight to those unfamiliar with them.
The majority of their set consisted of songs from their latest album Sunkissed which included “I’ll Reach out My Hand to You” and “Stand in My Sunshine.” Those songs encompassed what they’re music is all about: they’re simply feel good music. The jangly guitars are reminiscent of a modern take on Afro-pop ala Vampire Weekend while the pace and rhythm driven by the percussion brought to mind the rockabilly style of the 50s. Chris Adolf’s also showed off his charm by getting most of the crowd to do vocal melodies during “Let It Shine.” I think my friend said it best when she described Bad Weather California as the offspring of Dick Dale and The Beach Boys. That’s surely more than enough reason to see this band live.
At 10PM, the curtains jade-colored velvet curtains lifted to reveal The Lumineers, who expectedly drew a loud cheer from the crowd. While the core of the band consists of lead vocalist/guitarist Wesley Schultz, cellist Neyla Pekarek, and percussionist Jeremiah Fraites, they brought along two additional members for the tour: Stelth Ulvang (mandolin/piano) and Ben Wahamaki (bass). They immediately jumped into up-tempo opener “Classy Girls” followed by the piano-driven “Submarines,” which immediately brought the crowd the sing along for the rest of the night.
With the upbeat style of folk-pop that The Lumineers play, it’s hard not to clap and sing along. It shows a lot when a band doesn’t have to ask the crowd to participate when they automatically do it especially on a call and response song like “Big Parade.” But it is even more telling when a band has to ask the crowd to please put their cell phones away. When Schultz asked to do so during the song, it was a reminder that we may have forgotten what an actual concert experience is like. We’re there for an experience; to feel music through our natural senses and not through a lens of a camera or a cell phone. People pay money to see a band live to feel more intimate and personal with the performer, and to enjoy the moment. And most importantly, it’s to show a sign of respect to those on-stage giving us their time.
But I’m beginning to digress so let me get back to the actual show. There’s no question that “Ho Hey” is one of this year’s hits due to its infectious melodies and viral music video (think Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros). While it is already catchy on record, it is magnified ten-fold live. It’s the type of song that’s one-big sing-along in a hold-on-to-your-significant-other kind of way. Verse-for-verse, chorus-by-chorus, the crowd was there every note of the way. Not only did it show the uncanny communication and relationship between the band members, but also between the band and the crowd that showed what a real concert experience is all about.
It hasn’t even been a year since their debut album has been released, but it was a pleasant surprise to see them start playing some new songs. Apparently one song is “so new, it doesn’t even have a name yet,” Schultz exclaims. But it allowed Pekarek to take on lead vocal duties, which is lacking on the first record. Hopefully her soothing vocals show up a lot more on the new material because since she is more than capable to be front and center.
For a band with a headlining gig that only has one album to their name, it’s expected that covers make their way into their set. They did a cover of Sawmill Joe’s “Ain’t Nobody’s Problem,” with a stronger hint of bluegrass and faster paced. But the real highlight was their thumping cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” whose vocals Schultz strongly resembles.
For their encore, they decided to use other platforms than the stage to perform on. They disappeared from the stage only to reappear from the second story side balconies (three members on one side, two on the other). Once they got the crowd to hush down, they performed a stripped-down version of “Darlene” that saw the crowd instinctively stomping on the hardwood floor to provide a rhythmic backbone for the song. Back on the main stage, The Lumineers brought out Bad Weather California for the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (Ed: video at the bottom of the post) for another big, cathartic sing-along. The night ended with Schultz solo on stage to perform Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather.” While nothing was wrong with his cover, it felt out of place as the official set closer because the last two songs were more of a grand spectacle that should’ve ended the night.
Otherwise, The Lumineers played a near-perfect set showing that this newfound folk-revival that has been on the rise is here to stay. But what puts them at the top of the genre is their genuine demeanor through their music and personality, while re-establishing the intimacy and personal connection between a band and their audience regardless of the size of the venue.
Ain’t Nobody’s Problem (Sawmill Joe cover)
Flowers in Your Hair
Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan cover)
Slow It Down
(untitled new song)
You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones cover)
Boots of Spanish Leather (Bob Dylan cover)