The Lumineers’ meteoric rise in the music business is no ordinary success story…
The Denver based folk-rock band just released its first full album in April, after signing a management deal the prior Spring. The self-titled record turned out to be a simple, kind of quiet folk album that featured some cello, some accordion, you know the deal, girls really like it. But it rocketed up the charts almost immediately, and by mid-summer the feel-good sing-along single Ho Hey had sold over half a million copies.
It leaves music junkies like me pondering how it worked out for them like it did, while other talented musicians continue to slog it out and fight tooth and nail for every scrap of publicity and notoriety they can get. I mean, I’ve seen the old-timey-hat-and-suspenders thing, I’ve seen the one-girl-in-the-band thing, I’ve seen the stripped-down-front-porch-folk thing, and the sing-along-hand-clapping thing. So what makes these Lumineers so special?
I did some investigative work on the matter Monday at a (completely) sold out Liberty Hall in Lawrence. The show was originally slated for the Bottleneck, but tickets went so fast that the promoters immediately booked a bigger room, which also sold out in a flash. This has been the M.O. for many dates on The Lumineers’ current tour.
I mean, how cool must that be for the band? I can just hear their manager calling them:
Hey guys. Here’s the deal. So many people want a piece of you right now that we have to move you to a theater instead of that shitty bar you were scheduled to play at with the shitter in the corner of the “green room” and no ventilation (no offense Bottleneck, I still love you). Cool?
Yeah man, very cool.
The Lumineers took the stage shortly after 9:00 in their signature old timey hats and suspenders, five strong with keyboards, cello, drums/tambourine/glockenspiel, sometimes accordion/mandolin, bass, and acoustic guitar, of course. Lead singer Wesley Schultz wasted little time on pleasantries, jumping right into Submarines while manic percussionist Jeremiah Fraites flailed around the drums, standing up at times to pound out the simple rhythms and participate in the front porch shout outs that permeate many of The Lumineers’ songs.
Though it started out decent, the sound mix got a little muddy a few songs into the set, with the thwump thwump of the four-on-the-floor bass drum drowning out the subtleties of accompanying instruments like the cello and accordion, not to mention Schultz’s more subdued vocal bits. And it didn’t help that many in the audience preferred to carry on loudly with their friends instead of paying any attention to the people on stage they had ostensibly come to see.
Schultz tried to reel the revelers in a bit with some largely ineffective banter. “It’s like Chalk Hawk or something like that, right?” he asked before launching into Classy Girls, a song about getting shot down by a cute girl in a dive bar.
The next song was a bit of a surprise. Mainly because most bands make the audience wait and wait for the hits. But only 5 songs in, the opening guitar chords of Ho Hey sent the audience into a frenzy of hugging and cell phone video-taking. It seemed like the band was eager to get past their now ubiquitous claim to fame.
After singing just a few bars though, Schultz either had enough of the ADD-loud-talkers crowd or (probably more likely) just executed a little built-in showmanship. He stopped mid-lyric and shook his head slightly at the crowd.
“Can you put away all your phones?” he asked. “You’re taking away my spirit man.”
The audience mostly obliged and the band returned to its hit song, which sounded even more trite now that it seemed like the band would be fine if they never played it ever again.
“I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart…”
That out of the way, the band picked up some momentum with Flowers in Your Hair, Dead Sea, and Charlie Boy, all the while switching up instruments and configurations. The best song of the night, for me, was Charlie Boy and the next few after that, which featured mainly just the three main members, Fraites, Schultz, and cellist Neyla Pekarek (whom I could use more of in general). But again, things got a little tough with all the loud crowd chatter in the more stripped down moments.
After a relatively brief hour long set, the band emerged for the now-trademark folk move.
Yep, the obligatory and tired trick of playing without microphones! Although I must say it was cool to see Fraites kind of tearing up a glockenspiel on Darlene. You don’t get that every day. The next song brought back out the openers, The Comettes, for an energetic if predictable version of The Weight, followed by a very nice solo acoustic version of Dylan’s Boots of Spanish Leather.
Are they as good as Mumford & Sons? No. Are they as interesting as Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros? Not even close. But they’re certainly doing something right with their simple approach to folk rock. And they’re selling concert tickets and generating hype like both of those more seasoned acts.
All I can say is stay tuned for Act II, where the truth will be revealed.