Concert Review: The Lumineers – Sincerely Yours, Or When Appetite Meets Ability

December 8, 2014

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

The Lumineers / Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, Emmarentia / 6 December

 

The roots music revival spearheaded – in commercial terms, anyway – by Mumford & Sons in recent years has bought with it an audience comprising, from some points of view, exclusively hipsters. So when The Lumineers frontman Wesley Schultz steps out on stage on a hot Saturday afternoon in a park in Johannesburg clad in tight jeans, a checked shirt, a fashionably battered hat and a dense beard, it’s easy to think the he and his band have only included South Africa on their world tour itinerary because of the burgeoning local sub-culture who embrace the same uniform, or that the audience has come because the band embodies an image they aspire to.

Thirty seconds into the opening song, Submarine, it’s evident that there’s a good deal more to it than that. For one thing, it’s evident from the off that Schultz (singer-guitarist), Jeremiah Fraites (drums), Neyla Pekarek (cello), Stelth Ulvang (piano) and Ben Wahamaki (bass) are so connected to their instruments – and everyone bar Schultz plays two or three – that they hardly have to give a thought to what their hands are doing, being instead able to focus the bulk of their energy on connecting with their audience.

Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because their eponymous debut album was released nearly three years ago (they’ve been touring it since) and has charted around the world, becoming the soundtrack to a number of listeners’ lives, the band was greeted by singing almost as loud as their own coming back from the crowd.

Schultz took every opportunity that presented itself to share his and the band’s appreciation of the warmth with which they were received, as well as the size of the audience, which the singer proclaimed to be among the largest The Lumineers had ever played for. For their part, though, the band more than earned the adulation they were accorded, promising much up front and then over-delivering as the set progressed.

Even the gimmicks every decent-sized touring act inevitably develops worked well, rather than coming across as being manipulative. Schultz, Fraites and Ulvang wandered out to small platforms in the crowd at one point, helping them to bond with those further back. And the latter’s tendency to climb on top of his upright piano mid-song seemed as acceptable a physical outpouring of joy as Shultz’s rhythmic high-stepping during the instrumental interludes.

Put another way, what impressed, apart from the consistently high quality of the songs, was the commitment of the band to their craft and to the sharing of their passion. Perhaps that energy falls away with time, or perhaps some artists are happy to do considerably less because they’re not aware of how much less impact they’re when they expect their listeners to invest more than they do in their music.

Three years on the road has helped The Lumineers hone their act, but the precision involved still allows plenty of gaps for smiles, shared off-mic jokes between band members and friendly but focused inter-song banter.

During big hit Hey Ho, Schultz stopped proceedings to request that those filming the moment on their smartphones put their handsets because, in his words, “We need you here with us” – a sentiment expressed while thumping his chest to signify his heart. Again, cheesiness didn’t come into it; this felt like sincerity, and it was rewarded by a near complete accession to Schultz’s request.

As part of the encore, The Lumineers played Talking Heads classic This Must Be The Place, which they’ve made entirely their own, making it a remarkably close fit to both their sound and general lyrical themes.

Such assimilation was a feature of this closing concert of their South African and world tours. The band had made the audience part of the act and had been accepted as something more than simply performers in return. Their coming back once they have a new album to promote (Schultz and Pekarek introduced one new song, Duet, in this concert) will now feel as much like a reunion as a transaction – tickets weren’t cheap. And with any luck, the short-term legacy of this gig will be an increased appreciation for a combination of great musicianship and songwriting over the looped, superficial hooks of what’s clogging the contemporary mainstream.

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