The Lumineers @ House of Blues 2.4.13
by Andy Robinson (Journalism), published February 19th 2013
The folk-rock band out of Denver has experienced a bolt into national success that most artists can only dream of enjoying. Their single “Ho Hey” caught the public’s eye, but their robust catalogue of catchy songs both uplifting and heartbreaking, has kept them there. The Lumineers is an album of emotional ups and downs. Some of their songs, like “Stubborn Love,” dwell on soul-crushing thoughts and push the dramatics of love with a buildup that literally stops your heart cold when it drops. Other songs, like “Classy Girls,” express the awkward dance of picking up a girl at a bar. A common theme throughout seems to stem from struggles of passion, be it about a priest falling in love (“Big Parade”) or about a “long road to wisdom,” (“Flowers in your Hair”). Then there’s the dreadfully sad love song “Dead Sea,” with the lyrics “You told me I was like the Dead Sea/ you’ll never sink when you’re with me.” Makes me cry every listen.
The band nearly stomped out the floor boards of the House of Blues at last Monday night’s show. The show in Boston was actually rescheduled from February 10 to February 4 to accommodate their performance at The Grammys. I think when you can check off playing Saturday Night Live and then The Grammys before the one year anniversary of your debut album, it’s a true sign of making it. The Lumineers were nominated for Best New Artist and Best Americana Album, which put them head to head with their folk star brothers Mumford and Sons, who also performed at the ceremony. No wins for The Lumineers, but they expressed no heartache over the loss, saying on Twitter, “So, we didn’t win last night…but we sure ain’t losing.”
The band’s origins can be traced back to where lead vocalist Wesley Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites are from: Ramsey, New Jersey. Their musical journey then goes to New York City, where they played in bars and small clubs peppered across the city. But it didn’t pan out. So the two guys took their instruments and booked it to Denver where the band would have more time to focus on writing, developing, and growing. Neyla Pekarek, cellist and vocalist, was found by way of Craigslist, and has been a Lumineer ever since.
Their folksy look has become eye candy for music lovers and hipsters alike. Jeremiah’s white t-shirt with suspenders has become the band’s unofficial symbol, and Wesley is the picture-perfect image of what Indiana Jones would have looked like if he had an acoustic guitar instead of a whip.
Opening with “Charlie Boy,” a slow tune that thrives on quiet simplicity, the band went through their entire album. And the crowd was having it. For a band that is very rustic and heavy on the vocals, the House of Blues went nuts over them. They also had a few surprises. They sang an untitled new song, a love duet between Wesley and Neyla. On The Lumineers, Neyla is always playing the backup vocals, but in this song she was thrown into the spotlight with Wesley and her voice evoked thunderous applause and yearning for more. It was a simple, quaint little song between the two that will no doubt be on their sophomore album. They also played an eerily relevant tune called “Gun Song” and a track from their winter EP, Ain’t Nobody’s Problem. These songs hinted at new material, and fit the same mustard-stained, loss-for-words love themes that the debut album had. They also closed their encore with a cover of the Violent Femmes song “American Music.”
Their hit “Ho Hey” was the crowd pleaser. After playing a few songs, Wesley disappeared from the stage and Jeremiah removed his hat and pleaded to the audience to not take any pictures or video or use any electronics for the next song. Then Wesley appeared elevated in the center of the general admission floor with nothing but a guitar and an unnatural amount of trust in the crowd. He directed the audience to sing along like a trained composer. The lights exploded with every foot stomp, and Jeremiah’s request was almost completely honored. It’s rare that the crowd is truly louder than the band, and it’s even rarer that you enjoy the audience’s singing more, but such was the case here.
I saw these guys on a whim in Baltimore at the beginning of last summer. They were headlining at the Rams Head Live, an intimate venue right in the Inner Harbor. I knew “Ho Hey,” and that was about it. But they tore it up and made this casual listener fall hopelessly in love. Tickets were just $20 and they even sat out at a table after the show and met anyone that waited in line. It was a dream. Now, almost six months later to the day, their tickets sell out in a heartbeat and have almost doubled in price. And meeting them is much more difficult.
In the bitter cold, the wait outside the tour bus seemed like ages. Yes, we were those people. We figured, for a band that has had such a rag-to-riches journey (they literally sought out fans’ homes to crash at during their early touring days), they’d appreciate some fans waiting outside the bus like a couple of Almost Famous band-aids—and they did.
When hope is nearly as dead as the feeling in our fingers and toes, Neyla walks out of the House of Blues. A little later, Jeremiah walks out in two jackets, a sweatshirt, and a winter hat with a pair of sneakers in his hands, sans signature suspenders (Incognito, or perhaps just cold?).
We throw him a couple of burgers from Tasty Burger that we picked up to help us brave the cold, grab a photo, and go on our merry way. Despite the fame, the Grammy nominations, and all the success they’ve had in the past year, they were modest and genuinely excited to see a couple of half frozen fans. And excited for burgers.
The Lumineers are the indie rock band to know right now, because that “long road to wisdom,” is paying off. Next time they come around Boston, tickets will be even harder to get. So take full advantage of pre-sale opportunities, memorize the album (not just the “hos” and the “heys”), and put on those suspenders you bought but never wear. It’s in now.