Hailing from Denver in Colorado, The Lumineers were born out of tragedy in 2002 when founding members Wesley Schultz (lead vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, percussion) came together to write music following the impromptu death of Fraites’ brother and Schultz’s best friend Josh aged just 19 from a drugs overdose. This pairing was to have a happier ending, and now joined by Neyla Pekarek (Cello, backing vocals), Stelth Ulvang (piano, banjo, and much more) and Byron Issacs (bass guitar, backing vocals) they have become a charismatic five-piece, flourishing in mainstream success across the globe.
The band’s sound is true to their Mile-High City roots, much more on the folk side of rock, and offering upbeat sing-a-long tunes accompanied by banjo which often leaves them compared as an American version of Mumford and Sons. After a slow start, their self-titled first album received huge accolades on both sides of the pond following the success of single Ho Hey, going platinum in the US and nominated for a Grammy in 2013, whilst in the UK having sold almost half a million copies to date.
After taking a year out from touring to hone new offerings in 2015, the band released second studio album Cleopatra earlier this month, and the much-awaited record looks set to be a bigger hit than the first, debuting at no. 1 on both the US Billboard and UK album charts. In celebration of their new music, the group are embarking upon a busy year on the road which will see them yo-yo between Europe, Canada and the US. I was lucky enough to catch them play their sole London show at the Brixton Academy to welcome their new material to an eager sell-out crowd.
Appearing on stage to rapturous applause, one imagines the quintet sat in a sun-drenched field, straw in mouth and guitars in hand as the men arrive in signature style t-shirts with braces and trilbys. Girl-next-door Pekarek joins them and greets her Cello with the sophistication it so deserves. Frontman Schultz dives straight into the 21-track set with new song Sleeping On The Floor, a powerful ballad about the struggles of arriving in a big city, silencing the crowd with heartfelt lyrics that many will empathise with only too well living in London.
A thunderous drum beat heralds the start of the second song, driving the audience into a frenzy of claps, dancing and singing along to title-track from the new album, Cleopatra. As the Academy echoes with the words “late for the love of my life”, it amazes me how well the near 5,000 strong crowd can belt out the words just a few weeks after first hearing it, evidently already an anthem.
Reverting to old material, Ulvang leads Classy Girls on banjo keeping everyone singing, whilst Ho Hey increased the volume at least ten-fold. Co-written by Schultz and Fraites, it is a song about promise, about love, and one which I myself chose to play a part in my own wedding last year. Fraites came out from behind his drums for this one, joining Schultz up-front to support on tambourine. Every time I hear this song my only disappointment being that at 2.40 minutes, it is just over too quickly!
Schultz paused briefly to ask his fans in thick accent to “please video or picture the next song but after that please keep your phones in your pockets, is that a deal?” Agreeing, the concertgoers were treated to new tune Ophelia, before the pace mellowed for old tracks Dead Sea and Charlie Boy, introduced beautifully by Pekarek in the spotlight on Cello. Nostalgia continued as Schultz carried on alone with a stunning acoustic version of Slow It Down, before thanking the audience and showing appreciation for the crowd’s singing along “Every time we play at Brixton it’s really loud and we really appreciate it”.
The set continued in alternation between old and new, audience enthusiasm not differing between the two proving the second album is as packed full of potential hits as the first. Angela had all present hollering “strangers in this town”, whilst Flowers In Her Hair ignited roars of “be in my eyes, be in my heart”. An enjoyable rendition of Bob Dylan’s influential and fast-paced 1965 hit Subterranean Homesick Blues followed.
As the show reached its climax, the five lined the stage, taking to vocals for Big Parade before falling silent, heads bowed. Teasing the crowd for 10 seconds or so succeeded in rising the tempo further, threatening to lift the roof from the iconic venue. After Flapper Song and My Eyes all but Fraites left the stage, who remained to play piano instrumental track Patience.
Returning to thank all attending for spending the night with them, they played a three-song encore of Long Way From Home, Submarines and Stubborn Love. The band clearly enjoyed the show as much as I did, sharing hugs with each other at the end before Isaacs playfully made paper aeroplanes out of the setlists and fired them (badly) into the yearning hardcore of fans.
The question is, does their new music continue in both the strength and musical direction of the first album? Absolutely it does. The raw folk grittiness remains if anything with a slightly more country edge. The feel good factor is ever-present, and I am left feeling that the new songs are that little bit more intimate, more personal and even more beautiful.
The Lumineers will now play a number of shows across Europe, returning to the UK for Glastonbury in June and Latitude Festival in July.
Live review of The Lumineers @ Brixton Academy by Lauren Patel on 24th April 2016. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate