The Lumineers: More boring than rousing


Hot on the heels of their performance on Saturday Night Live, the Lumineers performed Wednesday at a sold-out DAR Constitution Hall. (Kyle Gustafson/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

A Lumineers gig comes with heaps of “HEY!” and “HO!” and “OH!” and “WHOA-OH-OH!” and it doesn’t take long for everything to start feeling very “meh.”

The ascendant Denver troupe performed to a capacity crowd at DAR Constitution Hall on Wednesday night, strumming empty-calorie folk-rock anthems for an anthem-famished audience.

And its audience is growing. The Lumineers’ self-titled debut album peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart this week, and the band will be up for best new artist at next weekend’s Grammy Awards. Like that of the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons before them, the Lumineers’ music feels like a slow-drip coffee break from the countless hours we spend navigating our digital lives. We lust after bands playing old-timey instruments the same way we lust after vintage clothing, craft beer and exposed-filament light bulbs.

Wesley Schultz gets that. A few songs into Wednesday’s gig, the Lumineers’ frontman asked fans to keep their smartphones in their pockets and get into the moment. It’s hard to condemn that request, but over 15 songs, his band’s exultant sense of all-togetherness seemed bland and hollow.

It was most evident during “Ho Hey,” a cute little ditty about predestined love, and the Lumineers’ biggest hit. Instead of delivering the song from the stage, the band bounded through the crowd and offered an unplugged rendition from the sound board at the back of the room.

Kinda fun, yeah, but what was the point? “They said it couldn’t be done,” Schultz announced when he returned to the front of the room, pretending that something which happens routinely at Taylor Swift concerts was, here, some kind of triumph. The gimmick finally curdled when the band played the song again at full volume later in the set.

And for much of that set, Schultz roamed the stage with high steps, as if marching through dog mess, or snow, or dog-messy snow. With a voice that approached the rasp of Rod Stewart, he was an engaging bandleader until you realized you were tallying the times his fedora had dramatically fallen from his head (eight).

Meanwhile, drummer-vocalist Jeremiah Fraites appeared to rue the day that he agreed to keep time for this band. He leapt up from behind his drum kit after nearly every song, wandering around between numbers with a serious case of the look-at-me’s. His drumming (uninventive) and his demeanor (needy) signaled a man averse to risk — a hunch all but confirmed by the fact that he wore suspenders and a belt.

Schultz and cellist-vocalist Neyla Pekarek exhibited something resembling chemistry during an untitled new duet that pantomimed two lovers in conversation. The verse sounded like “Santa Baby” while the refrain borrowed some OH-OH-AH-OHs from Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.”

But this is Schultz’s band through and through. He’s the one to credit for the Lumineers’ fleeting melodic charms and the one to blame for the band’s lack of momentum onstage. By bantering with the audience smack dab in the middle of his songs, he routinely spoiled The Moment he had encouraged his audience to get into.

“Thanks for standing up,” he gee-whizzed amid the stomp and bleat of “Stubborn Love,” as if patting the audience on the head for getting out of chairs was more important than taking everyone deeper into the song. And in the middle of covering “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Schultz delivered a helpful footnote: “This is a song by Bob Dylan. If you don’t know it, you should look it up.”

The Lumineers closed the set with a cover of the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” replacing the song’s glossy quirks with rustic jingle-jangles. It was as if they had pushed the song through an Instagram filter, turning something crisp and beautiful into something smudged and boring.

At least they made it their own.

The Lumineers will perform at Merriweather Post Pavilion on July 26.

Chris Richards became the Post's pop music critic in 2009. He has covered D.I.Y. house shows, White House concerts, go-go and Gaga.
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