Wesley Schulz announced that the band was going to perform a Sawmill Joe song and it was obvious much of the crowd knew what was coming, as The Lumineers started the song and brought Joe back on stage. Between pretty much all the members of the band, a great wave of joy issued forth: The Lumineers and Sawmill Joe performed a song that more than a few people in the audience seemed to know and join in on at least the choruses.
The whole show was a bit of an unexpected display of a communal musical experience that you don't often see. People knew this music and so many people sang along to songs that they've obviously come to love with a band that encouraged the audience participation not in an aggressive, desperate way but with a gentle nudge and grace. Clearly, this band has played this material countless times both in Denver and beyond, at small venues and large, but there was no pretense and these people were very much swept up in the moment last night at the Bluebird.
Not that you could help it when people in front of you are into your music and leaving no doubt with their enthusiastic response. But some artists seem to get jaded with the expectation of such things and this band isn't there yet. Rather, anyone lucky enough to catch The Lumineers at this time will find a band that exudes passion for its material and an overwhelming sense of happiness and gratitude at being able to play that music to people who have checked their judgment at the door. Which is a very fortunate place to be for any band.
Performing mostly numbers from its debut full-length, The Lumineers made what could be construed as a fabricated positivity into something genuine. With great energy and an ability to convey a panoply of emotions without being trapped in only one mode. If the band displayed its influences more clearly in the past, with this show, it has proven itself not to just be the descendents of its influences but showing signs of being successors in its alchemical ability to firmly establish an impression in your mind and heart as a noteworthy act in its own right.
The show kicked off with an endearingly humble performance by Sawmill Joe. He was up there with just a cellist. While the acoustic guitar he played might have been a little thin in such a setting, the cello filled out the lower end and gave the music much needed textures and sonic depth. Joe had the persona of some guy who just came in out of the coal mines or out of a factory or off of a ranch or out a sawmill even, and he sang the songs he had going through his head while engaging in repetitive, mindless work just to keep his imagination going and his spirit fed. This came across in his songs.
Part-blues, part-country and part-folk, and delivered with a husky voice that, if an affectation, absolutely did not sound like one.
The Outfit performed in the middle slot with its usual proclivity for impassioned, dynamic power pop. Eric Johnston seemed to have an unending ability to summon a wave of emotion that nearly caused his voice to distort perfectly in counterpoint to his usual croon, not unlike David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen. Some of the eight-song set came from the band's 2011 album, Broken West Wishbone Test.
The rhythm section for this incarnation of the band was fantastic and Mike King's always strong but versatile bass lines gave the music even more of a lift than it had before. At the end, Johnston said they were bringing in Dr. Music, the best keyboard player in town. He also joked about how maybe people could dance to the song and "Break in some of that denim. Lots of denim." True to his word, the final song was worthy of a bit of movement that the audience obliged.
Bias: Living in Denver most of my life, I've become a bit numb to the charms of any form of Americana or "old-timey" music. But the native charm and strong songwriting of The Lumineers is able to get past that thin barrier to full appreciation.
Random Detail: Ran into Tyler Campo of Port Au Prince outside getting away from the roiling heat of the venue for a moment.
By the Way: The debut self-titled album from the Lumineers is a good representation of a hint of what you're in for at the live show.
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