After Dark: The Lumineers bring rootsy sound to CMAC
05:00 AM, Jun 06, 2013
If you go
What: The Lumineers, Cold War Kids and J. Roddy & the Business.
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Where: Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center, on the campus of Finger Lakes Community College, near Canandaigua.
Tickets: $42.50 for the pavilion; $25 in advance and $30 the day of the show for the lawn. Available at ticketmaster.com, (800) 745-3000 and the Blue Cross Arena box office.
The first time I saw the Lumineers, they were playing on the roof of a grocery store in Austin, Texas. There might have been 50 people listening. I liked the band so much, I bought the CD, a month before it was officially released. Or maybe they gave it to me; I can’t remember. I was with Scott Regan, the morning guy on WRUR-FM (88.5). He bought a CD as well. Or maybe they gave it to him. I’ll bet he doesn’t remember, either.
That was March 2012. The next time I saw The Lumineers was nine months later, on TV at the Grammy Awards. That little self-titled CD had exploded. The band was nominated for two Grammys, Best New Artist and Best Americana Album.
And now, on Friday, you can see The Lumineers at the Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center. It is the rare band that headlines a major summer tour having released just one slim, 11-song album. “In the grand scheme of things, it really has happened fast,” admits the band’s cellist, Neyla Pekarek. “A year ago, I was busing tables for a living.”
That Austin afternoon, I was struck not only by The Lumineers’ relaxed, ragged bar-room acoustics, but the wonderful images in the songwriting. Larger-than-life images as in “Submarines,” where a man claims to have seen a Japanese submarine off the coast and runs back to the nearby tavern, where no one believes him. And tiny details in “Slow it Down,” like “Don’t ask for cigarettes, she ain’t got nothin’ left for you.” And I was struck by “Big Parade,” whose cavalcade of characters pass by in a small-town, yet epic, manner. A presidential candidate in a black armored car, a Catholic priest “torn between love and Jesus” and boxers, “violent men who dance the blood ballet.” So much of today’s inventive music is derivative of the past Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists and that’s where The Lumineers are coming from. Everyone’s looking for the next Mumford & Sons. The Lumineers? Sure, why not?
The Lumineers song that you may have heard is a charming little acoustic foot-stomper called “Ho Hey,” which became a minor hit, even creeping into a handful of television shows and TV commercials. When that lightning in a jar hits, you want to hang onto it until it burns your hands. While rehearsing the song for the band’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, Pekarek notes that one of the band members calculated that, at that point, The Lumineers had played “Ho Hey” 2,000 times. They’re not bored with that particular meal ticket. “I was happy to be playing a song on the show that I felt comfortable with,” Pekarek says. “You only have a couple of minutes to introduce yourself to that whole new audience.”
The Lumineers started as two guys from New Jersey, guitarist and singer Wesley Schultz and percussionist Jeremiah Fraites. Taking their act to New York City, they found the place too crowded with musicians and too expensive to live. On a whim, they moved to Denver. From there, the band was built in that most 21st century of ways, through Craigslist. “They placed an ad for a cello player, “because they wanted some sort of bass element that wasn’t a bass,” Pekarek says. “A bass was too harsh for the kind of music they wanted to make.”
Pekarek, who’d studied cello and vocal music in college, was in music limbo. She answered the ad, and now The Lumineers were a trio. The group has since added keyboardist Stelth Ulvang and, surrendering to the harsh realities of a band that needs to be heard in increasingly larger venues, bassist Ben Wahamaki.
So it’s been a headlong rush to No. 2 on the Billboard magazine Top 200 album chart, but Pekarek calls on “the everyday things” to keep her feet on the ground. Painting and making crafts. Reading post-apocalypric novels like The Hunger Games, and Miriam July’s collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You. July is one of those exhaustingly creative 21st century forces who records albums, does artwork, writes and stars in films and gets David Byrne to write the cover blurb for her first book. Perhaps less ambitious than July, Pekarek sees herself as someone who’s happy to simply be able to afford to move into a new apartment. But the truth is, The Lumineers have moved far beyond Denver. A recent tour of Europe was “a pleasant surprise,” she says. “The shows were sold out, and we were amazed at how polite the European audiences were, compared to New York audiences. Even in countries where English isn’t the main language, they knew the words to the songs. They were singing along to ‘Big Parade,’ and that has a lot of words.”
Yes, this is the 21st century, but The Lumineers are defined by their vintage sensibilities. Like Fraites’ ever-present suspenders. “I think he likes the idea of not having to think about what he’s going to wear in the morning,” says Pekarek, who’s amused, sorta, that music journalists seem obsessed “with the way we dress.”
OK, it’s not the clothes. Something about this dusty music has been catching the music-public’s ears for a while now. “We’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done before,” Pekarek says. She doesn’t say if she means five years or a century. “It’s a reaction to the electronic-oriented world in music and in life. People are looking for homegrown and are going back to basics. Raising chickens in your backyard. It’s like the farm-to-table movement in restaurants. Except this is in music.”