Every infectious song the lovable Lumineers laid down on Saturday night at the Bluebird Theater was either a dance-along, clap-along, stomp-, sway-, sweat-, sing- or scream-along. The encore threatened to bring down the balcony entirely — that’s where the rapidly rising Americana folkers went to stomp through their good-time tune, “Darlene.”
Every caterwauling, self-help Lumineers song calls on the faithful to open up their hearts and lungs and play along, leaving your sadness behind. Consecutive capacity performances at the Bluebird, coming hot off a May 7 appearance on “Conan,” made it plain the Lumineers are right at home in their new home state of Colorado. They come from Brooklyn, but their guttural, joyful harmonizing surely makes them blue-blooded, direct descendants of Colorado’s iconic Slim Cessna. If Mumford and Sons are the British Avett Brothers, then the Lumineers are Colorado’s Mumford. At any given moment Saturday, you’d swear they were just about to break into Mumford’s “Awake My Soul.”
The three core Lumineers are affable frontman Wes Schultz, drummer Jeremiah Fraites (brother of Schultz’s late best friend), and cellist Neyla Pekarek, a Denver native. Joined live by an additional guitarist and keyboardist, the band ripped through crowd favorites like the irresistible breakout “Ho Hey.” Having only just released their first record, there is perhaps an early over-reliance on audience call-and-response. More telling is the remarkable degree of communal connection the band already has forged with its loyal fans. That’s the band’s reward for its positive energy and unapologetic vulnerability.
Like-minded co-headliner Joe Pug is an affable and polite young singer one random woman in the crowd described to her friend as “kinda like country — but not all-the-way country.” He’s a searing lyricist who sings of an appreciation for precious things lost. Pug has a voice that evokes a meaningful Jimmy Buffett, and a haunting harmonica that veritably summons a glory-days Bruce Springsteen. (Let’s make that “The River.”) Touring in support of his new record, “The Great Despiser,” Pug’s songs of brothers, fathers, sons, sins and starting over easily won over anyone who bothered to listen. Which is not to say everyone.
It was just bad timing that Pug was finishing up his set while the Denver Nuggets were battling the Los Angeles Lakers in the deciding Game 7 of their NBA playoff series. Many in the noisy crowd had one eye on the stage and the other on their smart-phone ESPN gamecasts, which led to one unfortunate disruption of a “Let’s go, Nuggets” audience rallying cry.
Both bands paid homage to Levon Helm, a leader of the Band who died April 19. Pug dedicated his lovely “Hymn 101” to Helm (“I’ve come to test the timber of my heart”), while the Lumineers’ closing song was the Band’s “The Weight” (that’s the “Take a Load off, Fanny” song). Good thing, because by song 16, the young Lumineers were understandably out of new material.
The common theme of this feel-good night was an empowering call to personal accountability and (non-denominational) rebirth. From the Lumineers, there were anthemic lyrics like, “I am nobody’s problem but my own.” From Pug, there was a remarkable cover of a poem Harvey Thomas Young wrote as a letter to encourage his imprisoned brother. “As long as you’re not finished,” Pug sang, “you can start all over again.”
John Moore founded The Denver Post Underground Music Showcase in 2001 and was a writer at the newspaper for 18 years. Follow him on Twitter here.
Jackie Nuxoll is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.