At the House of Blues, the crowd didn't need any prompting to pay attention and sing.
"Normally I ask people to put away their phones," The Lumineers' Wesley Schultz told the crowd at the sold-out House of Blues last night, but he didn't finish the sentence. There was no need to. From the first bars of "Submarines," the very collegiate audience was too busy singing along to update a Facebook status.
Fortunately, I was out of Schultz's line of sight when I followed the online debate commentary on Twitter during the first half-hour of the set, and the contrast was instructive. The Tweeted snark and the band's good-naturedness seemed equally automatic, and that ease is the part of their appeal. But there's also a performed dimension to a good wisecrack, and The Lumineers' song- and stagecraft are equally self-conscious. While the audience was up for any sing-along thrown their way, they were at their best on the wordless passages where they weren't asked to remember the words. And as energetic and effortless and the interaction between Schultz, vocalist/percussionist Jeremiah Fraites and cellist Neyla Pekarek, seemed, there were just enough theatrical touches to make me wonder if that energy would manifest itself in similar moves tomorrow and like it did last night.
Dylan's electric folk was already the obvious reference point before they played an interesting arrangement of "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Then again, perhaps he's covered so much ground that everybody who strums a guitar brings him to mind. Their songs also bring to mind Springsteen in the sense that they make being young sound dramatic and meaningful, but The Lumineers do it with ascending melodies that carry implicit hope, even when the words say otherwise. And they do it well enough to graduate from The Circle Bar - who Schultz gave a shout-out to - to jam-packed House of Blues.
Maybe the stream of smartassery put me in the wrong place to be completely open to the band, or maybe it's them. For me, The Lumineers' undergrad populism was too right down the middle - heart-felt, good-natured but humorless. I prefer the freak spirituality of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and the Christian underpinnings of Mumford and Sons, where there's a stronger point of view behind the uplift, whether I share it or not.
The Lumineers on Liveset.com last May: