In reality, I bought the June 14 Lumineers tickets because I thought my wife and another couple might enjoy it. Normally, I like shows at the Pour House or Music Farm. Yet, not everyone I know wants to see a band that takes the stage at midnight. It’s those pesky things like day jobs, kids, etc., that keep people my age from enjoying the full range of bands in town.
So yes, I bought the tickets to see The Lumineers and, for my personal benefit, was happy to see the Cold War Kids slated to open. Then, when J Roddy Walston and the Business got added to the bill, my enthusiasm for a concert in a tennis stadium went up about six notches. When I first heard their record a couple of years ago, I felt that the traditions of rock and roll were in good hands with this Baltimore band. J Roddy pounds on a piano like he’s Jerry Lee Lewis' rebellious son trying to show the old man how to rock. On every song he pushes his whiskey-ravaged vocal chords to the limits. It’s music that demands to be heard, even if you can’t always understand every word. If my endorsement isn’t enough, how about one from local heroes Shovels And Rope, who slipped in a verse of a J Roddy song when S&R played the Charleston Music Hall earlier this year. Yeah, I was excited to see J Roddy and the Business.
The other couple ended up cancelling and so did our babysitter. Yet, I found a way to get my infant daughter a sitter, a sleepover for my son, and ended up taking my wife and 12-year-old daughter to the show. Three bands. Two dates. One lucky guy. We were off.
It is strange to see a rock show in a tennis stadium, but you couldn’t ask for a better night. Not as hot as previous days, there can’t be a bad seat in the place. The theme for the concert had to be "good karma." How else can you explain a “Mumford band” like The Lumineers going from playing 100-seat rooms in their hometown of Denver, and recording their own record, to suddenly finding themselves in the middle of record label bidding war after a Seattle DJ starts playing their song twice a day every day and calling it the best song of 2012. As any struggling local band knows, that takes a lot of luck or karma to find that fortune.
To begin the good feelings, the two founding members of The Lumineers took the stage to introduce J Roddy and the Business. Under clear sunny skies, J Roddy and his band looked a bit out of place in their heroine-chic clothes and 70s era haircuts. The band pounded through a dozen piano and guitar driven songs from their self-titled CD, and included a couple of brand new songs. Opening with the song “Full Growing Man,” the band showed it had the chops. High falsettos from bassist Logan Davis and guitarist Billy Davis added as much to the songs as Michael Anthony added to Van Halen.
At the end of the set, Roddy attempted to get the young and pretty Charleston crowd to sing along, but was unable to get the crowd fully engaged. To finish off, the members of The Lumineers came back on stage to bang on some drums during J Roddy’s closing song, which brought back the crowd’s attention. J Roddy was all I hoped he’d be in this setting, but I hope that their recent signing with ATO Records and current efforts at a new CD will result in a headlining tour, which will stop at the Music Farm or Pour House very soon.
Next up was the Cold War Kids, a Long Beach indie band that is also known for their energetic live show. As much as I was looking forward to J Roddy, I knew little about the Cold War Kids. What I saw made me a big-time fan. Running through their better known (can’t call them “hits”) songs “Miracle Mile” and “Hang Me Up To Dry,” I found myself realizing I knew more of their catalog than I expected. Lead singer Nathan Willett has a charisma that I haven’t seen since Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs in the early 90s. Willett deftly alternated between piano, guitar, and singing. Their punchy rhythms, funky riffs, and high melodies suggest a love of both punk and soul music.
The band closed with “St. John” and a large group of the audience pushed forward to create a good sized dance floor along the center aisle. The Cold War Kids definitely put out a solid groove without being a jam band, a loud attack without being punk, and a soulful delivery without being a soul band. It’s a mix that is very satisfying.
My daughter, the real family music critic, was impressed.
Night fell and the chandeliers came down. That is, the large golden prop chandeliers above the stage. Sections of the stage were reset to elevate the cellist, pianist, and drummer. Then the stadium lights dimmed and The Lumineers crept on stage under cover of temporary darkness, opening with the current radio track, “Submarines.” The song showcases a simple piano, guitar, and cello arrangement, punctuated by occasional gang shouting. It’s an interplay of soft music against bursts of attention-grabbing attacks which makes their music unique on record.
The band continued the good karma theme by playing “It Ain’t Nodbody’s Problem” by fellow Colorado singer Sawmill Joe. Not pretending it was one of theirs, they invited the crowd to research Sawmill Joe for more good music. What a nice, friendly touch. The fact that the track fit so well in their set, by unheralded, unsigned artists, was evidence that the Lumineers are barely a step above half a dozen similar bands in any city. Their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was enjoyable, if not remarkable. The band did not feel the need to tell anyone to look up more of Mr. Dylan’s music.
The Lumineers are such a quiet band when compared to the two opening acts. Also, they have only one record while the two opening acts each have fuller catalogs. Yet, what they have are sing-along melodies, a deft flow to their stage show, and a great desire to engage a large crowd by making it feel like everyone is in a cozy living room. Without noticeably changing the line-up, the band slowly eroded from song to song, going from a five-piece act down to a solo performance of “Slow It Down” by lead singer Wesley Schultz.
Schultz brought back the ever-adorable cellist Neyla Pekarek to sing a new song, “Falling” as a duet. It has a lovely little melody that my daughter swore they borrowed from the Owl City/Carly Rae Jepsen duet. When this new Lumineers song comes out, let me know if you hear that too.
Just when you thought the band could not get any more cozy, they brought the stage to the audience. Announcing that they have become most comfortable in house concerts, lead singer Schultz led the band to the back of the floor seating while roadies guided them with flashlights and wireless microphones. Once the band started playing, Schultz stopped suddenly and implored people to turn off their recording devices and cell phones. Just put them away for a little bit, he asked. “We just want you to be here,” he said with an emphasis on “be here.” With traditional instruments, vintage clothing, and simple songwriting, the Lumineers are on a mission to be a break from digital lives. I’d like to imagine they run their tour busses on vegetable oil and do bartered performances at organic farms.
You can’t blame them for trying to hold to an image of less-digital times. Not a whole lot of people put away their phones, but he started back up and the band played on for a couple of songs.
Perhaps this is the apex of the Lumineers’ popularity and they will be back to playing house parties after the next record. You never know. If so, they seemed quite content surrounded by fans singing along close enough that the mics picked up some stray singing.
Energized by their time with “the people,” they took the stage again as a full five-piece. An encore included a rousing version of The Band’s classic “The Weight” including members of the opening acts.
My favorite act of the night was J Roddy, with The Cold War Kids a close second, and I came away pleasantly surprised by the Lumineers. My parting thought on the Lumineers is that there are a half a dozen singer/songwriters in Charleston who can be on par with the Lumineers’ Schultz. Maybe one of them will be headlining the Family Circle Stadium someday. Maybe you can get to the Pour House, Tin Roof, Royal American, or other local bars and see the next Lumineers before they go national.