It’s hard to think of a bigger rags-to-riches music story over the last year than The Lumineers‘ astonishing rise to national prominence. In the span of about 10 months, they went from a bottom-of-the-bill trio who moved to Denver because they hadn’t been able to hack it in New York City, to being nominated for two Grammy Awards, having their songs placed in half a dozen major movie trailers, and selling out multiple nights at one of the largest venues in their former home.
Last night’s performance at NYC’s Terminal 5 was the largest headlining show the band had ever played. Even so, they did their best to keep their trademark warm and rustic feel alive with antique knick-knacks peppered about the stage. The three core members — Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites, and Neyla Pekarek — stood among an old-fashioned AM/FM radio, aged green chest of drawers, and a coat rack that you might find in a diner somewhere in the hills of North Carolina.
At face value, the band’s intimate self-titled debut record was a strange fit for the massive 3,000 capacity, three-leveled ballroom. To make sure their folksy Americana made it all the way to the back corners of the sold out crowd, they augmented their lineup with the addition of three backing musicians. While this took away much of the fireside familiarity of songs like “Charlie Boy” and “Stubborn Love”, it did fulfill its ultimate purpose of fleshing out some of their more bare-bones tracks.
Fresh off a solid performance on SNL two weekends ago, the jovial band was oozing with even more confidence. Apart from the fact that they walked on stage as Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” blared over the PA (how’s that for stadium-sized ambition?), Schultz and Co. knew how to get the potentially stiff midtown crowd stomping and clapping early on. “Classy Girls” was particularly rowdy, giving off a dingy barroom vibe and prompting more than one make-out session in my direct vicinity.
The show veered off into a full-on saloon sing-along when they broke out an unplugged version of their ubiquitous single “Ho Hey”. The mildly intoxicated Friday night crowd fumbled during the verses, yet no amount of $8 beers could take away the simple satisfaction of shouting “Hey!” and “Ho!” at the end of every line. They followed that with a mid-tempo, folksy cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. It would have been interesting to hear The Lumineers inject some of their romp-n-stomp high energy into the 1964 classic, but they still managed to make it work as a mid set come-down.
Somewhat unexpectedly, an untitled new track made its way onto the setlist. The his/hers ballad brimmed with gushy romanticism and lines like “Drama queen / Like when you see fire you grab gasoline.” Pekarek and Schultz stood side by side, looking straight out of a 1950’s postcard. As the set drew to a close, they reprised “Ho Hey,” this time with the aid of amps and microphones. Schultz further played the part of retro crusader when he pleaded with the audience to put down their iPhones — to little avail. Nevertheless, the band left the stage with ear-to-ear grins and brimming with gratitude.
In typical Terminal 5 fashion, many of the attendees hightailed it towards the exit once they had gotten their fill of hey-ing and ho-ing. The venue was at just over half-capacity by the time the band came back for their encore, which included a cover of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place”. David Byrne’s opening line of “Home, is where I want to be” especially resonated, considering The Lumineers once hailed from the Big Apple. It was a generous nod towards their former hometown from a band on the cusp of superstardom.
I Ain’t Nobody’s Problem
Flowers in Your Hair
Ho Hey (unplugged)
Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan cover)
Slow It Down
New Song (untitled)
This Must Be The Place (Talking Heads cover)
Photography by Robert Altman