The Lumineers at Riviera Theatre / by Doyle Armbrust

Friday Night Lights must be resurrected for one more season, if only so folk trio the Lumineers have the opportunity to close each episode with their endearing pigments of nostalgia and hope. That the music is TV-ready should not be a surprise, given that a large quotient of Thursday night's Riviera Theater audience likely became aware of the band by way of its hit single "Ho Hey," featured on the CW Network's Hart of Dixie. TV-ready is not pejorative in this case, though, as the trim set quickly proved with tightly constructed stomper after clap-inducing stomper.

Seattle openers the Comettes had the crowd's interest piqued and voices lowered early with a midcentury-esque, West Coast synth/drums/guitar set that would be right at home on a David Lynch picture's opening credits. The grueling hour that elapsed before the Lumineers took the stage seemed to evaporate for the crowd as the big beat thump of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" ushered the band in from the wings. The Lumineers (a fivesome for the tour, adding Stelth Ulvang on piano/mandolin and Ben Wahamaki on bass) broke open the proceedings with their most rhythmically engaging number, "Submarines." Alternating among 5/8 and 3/8 and 12/8 meters, this is as complex as the Denver-based group spelunks, but there is a true vocal agility here, evidenced in the tightness of the ensemble as it navigates the intermittent shouts that pepper the vocal lines.

Really, though, it comes down to joy. Even the drunk post-grad who insisted on white-guy-clapping his way through each and every song was graciously left alone to inhabit his happiness. There is a complete lack of irony in this music. Even a politically infused number like "The Big Parade," with its lyrics of "And oh my my oh hey hey / Here he comes, the candidate / Blue-eyed boy, United States / Vote for him, the candidate" comes across as earnest rather than sneering. The formula throughout is simple: solo vocal followed by massive bass drum and snare thwack, or waltz, heavy on beats two and three (see: Mumford & Sons), but it's an effective formula. Lead singer Wesley Schultz and his co-songwriter, drummer Jeremiah Fraites (who looks like a famished Woody Harrelson), have expelled every bit of air from their lungs at the end of each vocal line, and the experience leaves the listener believing, emotionally, in what is transpiring on stage. It's honest, eager and full of hope. It's certainly a respite from an overly adversarial election season.

Cellist/singer Neyla Pekarek laid bare her classical chops with an intro for the night's most sonically and lyrically poignant moment, "Slow It Down." It's on this downtempo ballad that Schultz's seemingly effortless vocal gliding just behind the beat is heard most clearly. The effect allows lyrics like "I feel her filth in my bones / Wash off my hands till it's gone" alight atop the dusky, late-night strumming of his guitar. The evening's other take-away moment arrived midway through the encores, as Ulvang climbed with his accordion into the stage-left box seats and Schultz took up position in the stage-right box. From beneath, Fraites kept time on a tiny glockenspiel, leading his bandmates through an unamplified rendering of "Darlene." Like most Lumineers tracks, this one had the ticket-holders bolstering the chorus, and the effect was something like an adult Free To Be You And Me session. Unlike the cagey put-on of groups like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the Lumineers have tapped into something genuine in a live setting. It won't be long before their cover is (more widely) blown beyond the capacities of venues like the Riv, so readers may want to concoct a way of getting into Friday's show at Logan Square Auditorium. 

- Doyle Armbrust

published in the Time Out Chicago Audio File Blog on September 21st, 2012