The Lumineers review – oak-aged folk without the frills

O2 Academy Brixton, London
There’s nimble playing and harmonising from this popular trio, but their leading man has surprisingly little charisma

Like Mumford & Sons, the Lumineers have adopted a strand of rootless country-folk that has no geographical connection to Nashville. Founding members Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites grew up 25 miles from midtown Manhattan, in northern New Jersey, but their affinities lie with the rawboned and the homespun, with crumpled hats and swept-back Nashville manes. Nominative determinism must have played a part – people named Wesley and Jeremiah could scarcely have made music that didn’t involve banjos and mandolins, and a decade of strumming has even endowed frontman Schultz with a southern-ish accent that must perplex people back in New Jersey.

Now based in Denver, and a trio since the addition of cellist Neyla Pekarek, the Lumineers left the bar circuit behind in 2012, when the single Ho Hey became a worldwide hit (more determinism: a song called Ho Hey could only be a stomping hayride of a song, and as such might be expected to turn up at the end of the set rather than as the fourth song, where it’s dispatched so quickly the crowd barely have a chance to pull out their phones). Their debut album received two Grammy nominations, and the follow-up, Cleopatra, topped the US and UK album charts this month.

The Lumineers
Back-room folk … the Lumineers. Photograph: Venla Shalin/Redferns

Though the Lumineers aren’t doing much that Mumford, Ryan Adams and Nebraska-era Springsteen haven’t already done, it’s easy to see why many of the touts lining the route from Brixton tube to the Academy have run out of tickets to sell. One Direction’s Niall Horan is here, presumably purging himself of pop. Even people who routinely film gigs on smartphones – many do, flouting frontman Schultz’s request that they put them away – want to reconnect with something oak-aged and tangible, and it’s not hard to picture the Lumineers living the analogue lives described in their songs.

Tonight’s opener, Sleep on the Floor, persuasively paints them as purveyors of frill-free, back-room folk: “Pack yourself a toothbrush, dear / Pack yourself a favourite blouse / Take a withdrawal slip, take all your savings out.” At any rate, it’s hard to imagine the same song, which counsels running away from an overweeningly religious small town, sung with any conviction by Marcus Mumford of Wimbledon SW19. And there’s a nimbleness to the trio’s playing and harmonising that bespeaks years of Travelodges and vans, learning to get it right. A smidgen of left-leaning east coaster does emerge in Gun Song; quavering over his acoustic guitar, Schultz sings in a torn-up rasp of finding his father’s gun, but refusing to own one himself.

Their continued rise seems preordained, but what might hinder them en route is their lack of charisma. For a central figure, Schultz has surprisingly little magnetism, made itchingly clear by the stage lights turning purple in a brief homage to Prince before the band arrive. Compared to Prince, and to Bob Dylan – whose Subterranean Homesick Blues is rousingly but perfunctorily covered here – Schultz and the Lumineers are the normals next door.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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