The band began on the streets of New York with just drummer Jeremiah Fraites and lead singer Wesley Schultz. Due to the strains of the New York music scene they moved to Denver, Colorado, where the full band was assembled. In continuation of their approach in New York the band performed almost constantly, and it was during these days that the dynamic of the band formed.
They eventually took the songs that they had perfected on-stage and recorded, amongst others, Ho Hey, in a small attic in Denver. It would be this song, the one that had been pleasing the crowds for all that time, that would give them their break. They got a very modest record deal and began to tour in order to sell and promote their recorded work. Needless to say, those attic-recorded tracks would capture people’s imagination and help them towards being the global sensation that they have become.
It will come a little surprise therefore when I tell you that they, and their songs, sit rather comfortably on stage. That is where they were born, and that is where they really come to life.
I saw them in The Roundhouse, Camden, as part of iTunes Festival 2013. They were headlining the day, being streamed live, and being videoed. These videos would go out to tens of thousands of people, so while being viewed in their most familiar format, I think that even for them this must have been a daunting prospect – far removed from the dingy bars of Colorado where the songs were debuted.
They opened with ‘Submarines’, one of the big sing-along tracks on the record. It whipped people into an almost instant state of carnival. This was followed by a slower number; a cover entitled ‘Aint Nobody’s Problem But My Own’. It gave some time for a breather, and invited rapturous applause for birthday girl Neyla Pekarek who temporarily swapped cello for microphone.
Our heart rates were swiftly brought back to hyper-speed with the opening track from their album ‘Flowers In Your Hair’. It was here that I began thinking about the knack The Lumineers have for writing a ruddy good pop song. You can say what you want about them, but they sure know how to push the ‘sing along’, ‘stamp-foot’, ‘slowly-shake-head’ and ‘please bloody well get out of my head’ buttons. Speaking of which, ‘Ho Hey’ came next. They started it without amplification and then flicked to 11 at the first chorus. It is a great song, but this transition felt a little bit clunky. It didn’t dampen the crowds’ fervor, and closed to palm reddening applause.
The Lumineers have an interesting performance style. It feels relaxed, casual and at times slightly chaotic. This creates a sense of ease and lack of tension between the band and the crowd. It is not something that you would necessarily notice, but it helps the set flow, and sets people at ease. There is certainly no danger of an awkward silence on stage.
We then saw a bit of a lull in the set. First came a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ that was followed by ‘Dead Sea’ and I’m afraid to say that this is probably quite a good way to describe the state of the crowd through this period.
I’m pleased to say that this quiet period was extremely short-lived. The band then pulled off one of their now signature moves. They assembled a few stools in the middle of the crowd and played a couple of songs amid the adoring masses. They played one that I had not heard before, followed by ‘Eloise’. Unsurprisingly, this stunt went down incredibly well!
The band reassembled onstage for ‘Stubborn Love’, which I think is the bands best song, and also the best of the evening. It was emotional, and had the couples in the house swapping looks of adoration and understanding.
‘Flapper Girl’ was plinkerty-plonked from the piano before the band left the stage to set up the encore.
They returned and played two songs “That didn’t make the record”. I have to admit to slightly seeing why they didn’t make the cut, but normal rambunctious service was resumed with the last song of the night, ‘Big Parade’. It was BIG. Everybody joined in for the choruses and the band departed with big grins on their faces. So did we.
The Lumineers have done what only a couple of bands in the world have managed to do. They have taken folk music beyond the realm of the folk scene and into the sphere of the masses. Their gift for mercilessly tweaking those key enjoyment buttons has cemented their music into the hearts and mouths of millions, and it is not a coincidence. They do write fantastic pop songs and they also have a terrific ability to charm an audience.
All they need to do now is write a convincing second album and they may stay up there for a while longer. I just wonder whether their current surrounding will inhibit the kind of songwriting that they were able to do when they were not the iTunes Festival Roundhouse-headliners that they are now.