Less than a week into their nearly 9-month long U.S. run on the III World Tour, The Lumineers brought warmth to a cold and snowy St. Louis night through spirited storytelling and electric performance at Enterprise Center.
This past year saw the release of the Denver-based Americana group’s third studio album, III. The project was daring, veering almost completely away from the foot-stopping, hand-clapping hits that the group is known for to delve into the dark and and tangled web of the cycles of addiction. But what the album lacks in light-heartedness, it makes up for in it’s expertly crafted stories and songs. The group’s founding members, vocalist/guitarist Wesley Shultz and drummer/pianist Jeremiah Fraites, have been together on their musical journey for just shy of two decades now, and III has brought new clarity to just how talented they are at what is proving to be their true craft: songwriting.
Very little was traditional about the album, which was released in 3 chapters, each one focusing on a different generation of a family whose life has been deeply affected by addiction. The album saw a heavy emphasis placed on the visual aspect of storytelling as well; the band released a music video for every song on the album, and large video screens let concert-goers experience those stories live as the band played the album through and the videos played behind them. While the family depicted, also known as the Sparks, are a fictional family, their stories come from a very real place.
The Lumineers played the new album in its entirety (although not in order as it was originally released) as well as plenty of fan favorites during their set, which lasted nearly 2 hours. The first half of the show contained many of the band’s earlier hits although content from III was dispersed throughout, proving that songs from the dark storybook of an album could stand on their own as well.
While so much of the night dealt with heavy subject matter, The Lumineers didn’t let it weigh them down, and the energy was always light-hearted, electric, and engaging. Of the band’s massively successful breakthrough hit, “Ho Hey”, Shultz encouraged the crowd to join in (as if there was any planet on which they wouldn’t) as he humbly told the audience that to the band “it doesn’t even feel like our song anymore; It feels like a cover.” The stadium was eager to claim it as their own.
In terms of actual covers, the Lumineers busted out a spirited version of Dylan’s fast-paced “Subterranean Homesick Blues” as well as bringing out openers Matt Quinn of Mt. Joy and J.S. Ondra for a moving take on Cohen’s “Democracy”, which is included as a bonus track on the album.
As the night wore on the band got more serious, with the back half of the show containing almost exclusively songs from the grim III, including alternative radio-hit “Gloria”, which at first listen may sound like a bright and shiny sonic match to early Lumineers numbers, but a closer listen to the lyrics would reveal the hopeless and manic addiction fueled-world meant to be represented.
Before “Leader of the Landslide”, one of the pinnacle moments from the album, Shultz took a moment to speak of what the record means to him and his own experiences trying to help a family member battle addiction. “What I learned is that standing up against addiction is like standing up in the ocean,” he said. “It’s so hard.” He dedicated the heart-wrenching and powerful song to those in the audience going through similar experiences.
Despite the large group on stage, which included violinist Lauren Jacobson, pianist/accordionist Stelth Ulvang, bassist Byron Isaacs and percussionist/guitarist Brandon Miller in addition to Shultz and Fraites, the feeling on stage was always intimate and that of one big, happy, musical family. The group was constantly in motion, often swapping out instruments or venturing out onto the stage’s various ramps to be closer to the encircled audience. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects about watching the group is how much fun they seem to be having amongst themselves. Every member seems to possess a true sense of camaraderie that is rare to see with bands playing venues of this size. The Lumineers had a childlike lightness in their step as they danced, frolicked, and (if you’re the wacky, barefooted Ulvang) leapt 10 feet into the air off of pianos.
Shultz, as close as one can get to being an Americana Rockstar, was no exception to this. The frontman nonchalantly disregarded this status and casually hopped off the stage, unencumbered by security, to immerse himself in his audience. He journeyed around the arena for a song, climbing up almost to the nosebleeds to high-five and connect with adoring and respectful fans before returning to stage.
The show closed after a fiery encore with longtime fan-favorite “Stubborn Love”, which audience members joyously clapped, danced, and passionately belted along to with the band before saying goodbye to the always gracious folk-rockers.
As the band loaded out and fans sauntered out into the icy winter night, many concert-goers milled around the arena floor, talking and laughing quietly amongst themselves as adults and children alike gathered and tossed handfuls of the earlier-released confetti and continued to spin and dance in the paper rain as it fell back to the ground, the elation of the experience not quite worn off yet. Unwilling to wake up from the Americana- dream world that we all had spent the night dazing in, they remained there as I reluctantly left to rejoin the real world. Can’t say I blame them.
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