Live Music: The Lumineers, Cafe du Nord, San Francisco, 3/24/12

Written by Concert Reviews, Music

The Lumineers are among the latest and greatest of the new generation of rootsy folk-rock bands that have kept Americana fresh and captivating through the years. Like those musical contemporaries whose sound they evoke—think the Avett Brothers, Delta Spirit, the Cave Singers, Blitzen Trapper—the Lumineers churn out an intoxicating blend of Heartland rock and folk with a touch of gospel. The result has already started to take audiences by storm, and they’ll continue to exponentially amass fans over the next few months, as the band has hit the road in support of their soon to be released self-titled debut full-length (due next Tuesday in fact), and is selling out most venues along the way. Among them was San Francisco’s Café Du Nord this past Saturday night.

The band comes from Denver (by way of New York City) and is at its core a trio (joined by two supplemental live musicians), and their poignant songwriting and charismatic onstage presence are the right ingredients to stir the musical landscape and resonate in waves. I was sent a track, “Hey Ho”, by a friend a few weeks ago (well, an old boyfriend actually) and it was immediately set on repeat, inciting a few sniffles from me as I played it over and over. (If you’ve heard the song you understand the impact of listening in the context of an old flame.) Their set on Saturday was a seamless continuation of the snag they had already caught in my heart.

The supporting band, Y La Bamba, made for an interesting, if rather disjointed, opening, as they are an act led by a enthralling female singer who sings a fragmented brand of folk over somewhat discordant melodies. I have enjoyed their studio music, but wasn’t so much gripped by their onstage set, yet their ability to craft arty experimental folk is certainly not to be discounted, and in a different context (in my case, through headphones) their unique hybrid shines.

When the Lumineers came on around 11:30pm, they sucked all the energy from the deep, long venue and directed it up to the stage. They played a rousing set of the songs on their debut, which veered from foot-stomping to melancholic. Indeed, the impetus for the creation of the band was born in tragedy, as the brother and best friend of two of the members (drummer Jeremiah Fraites and bandleader Wesley Schultz, respectively) died of a drug overdose at 19. A musical eulogy bleeds through the songs, but not in an overly sentimental or dour way… simply in a manner that speaks to the loss of love and life and the subsequent creative fuel that it can at times inspire.

Paying homage to their troubadour roots, the band ended with a cover of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, bringing a vital new energy to a song that’s been played thousands of times before. When the band came back for an encore, they set up in the middle of the room and stripped it all the way back down for us to take part in with them, serenading us side-by-side, tenderly evoking the origins of song in its barest form. Short on spectacle yet brimming with a cathartic honesty and fervor, the Lumineers’ live show is a testament to the burgeoning spring season of music that is now upon us.  These guys are ones to watch.