The Lumineers at Red Rocks, 9/15/13

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THE LUMINEERS at RED ROCKS | 9/15/13 Unsurprisingly, Red Rocks erupted in cheers at the opening strains of "Ho Hey," the Lumineers breakthrough hit. Even though the song is kind of a delicate love song whose most prominent instruments are mandolin and drums, clearly the tune has struck a massive chord. This time last year, the act was playing small theaters, and these days it's risen to the level where it's can draw throngs of fans to Red Rocks on back-to-back nights -- in the rain.

See also: The Lumineers shed light on life in Denver and their evolving sound

The Lumineers have managed to do something a lot of bands doing the folk pop thing haven't done, and that is translate the excitement of the small stage directly to big stages. The music felt as intimate as ever at Red Rocks, and Wesley Schultz, who did most of the talking, hasn't really changed how he's always done things. He continues to operate with an admirable confidence.

Drawing primarily from its self-titled debut, the outfit performed its other biggest hit, "Stubborn Love," and Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" was transformed into something more melancholy and finely textured. Early in the set, Schultz told us the band had participated in Denver Does Denver, where it covered Sawmill Joe's "Ain't Nobody's Problem," and then Sawmill Joe himself came up to lend his warm, raspy vocals to the song.

Halfway through the show most of the band left the stage, and Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites stood alone, with Fraites playing a kick drum and a tambourine, while Schultz sang lead and played guitar for a stripped down version of "Slow It Down." Then Fraites left and Neyla Pekarek came up to do a new song with Schultz, in which she did many, if not most, of the lead vocals for a tune that was featured Schultz and Pekarek singing call and response style about a playfully fractious relationship.

After the new song, Schultz told us that the band would come out and feel what we're feeling and perform a couple of songs in the rain. And so, as promised, the Lumineers came out well past the foot of the stage, fully exposed to the drizzle, and performed "Darlene" and "Elouise." Then there was an extended pause, and Schultz introduced the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, which sat in for the next handful of songs beginning with "Submarines."

It would have been easy for an orchestra to dominate the sound, but the arrangements were so subtly tasteful, they added a richness of sound that enhanced the dramatic character of the music. Even the humorous "Submarines" seemed writ large, while "Dead Sea" was uplifting and majestic.

If there was an element of self-indulgence, it was of the variety that makes the experience greater for everyone involved, including the audience. And since this performance was being filmed, the Lumineers pulled out all the stops and made it a special moment despite the miserable weather, and the members invited some of their friends along for the ride on both nights and honored that music as well.

Speaking of which, the Outfit opened the night, a nice surprise to those of us that have seen the band numerous times in dive bars and small clubs. The fact that it was Red Rocks didn't seem to intimidate the band, which commanded the stage. Eric Johnston's lyrics aim for something more personal while, at the same time, being universal. From the reception the band got, the energetic and dynamic music seemed to reach more than a few people. The group closed with the raucous yet thoughtful and moving, "What Happened To You."

Dr. Dog from Philadelphia played next, and at first, it seemed like it was going to be a kind of folk rock thing of a different flavor, but then the Dog went weird with some of the synth and guitar work that came in after some initial acoustic guitar melodies. Through the course of its set, Dr Dog proved it isn't exactly sitting comfortably in an all-too-comfortable niche. At times the act recalled the Beach Boys, and at others, the Flaming Lips, landing somewhere between the organic with the tripped out.

Sure, there were very solidly crafted melodic songs, but these guys didn't seem afraid to go way off the deep end into abstract, atmospheric noise and then drop back into a song where it had left off. "Shadow People" was especially effective, as was "That Old Black Hole," during which R&B was woven together with psychedelia and the strange in equal measures. Discerning listeners had to be impressed with Dr. Dog's poignant and creative lyrics cleverly executed.


Personal Bias: I've been a fan of the Lumineers since seeing them at the Bluebird over a year ago. They've just gotten better with success -- something not many bands do. Random Detail: Ran into promoter/Red Rocks merch guy Tony Mason at the show. By the Way: This was probably the best sound mix I've ever heard at Red Rocks. Kudos to the sound crew and to the Lumineers for wanting that dialed in perfectly.

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