The sultry, gothic Albert Hall venue in Manchester played perfect host to the Denver folk band outfit The Lumineers last week. Although the building, a former Methodist central hall, can at times be uncomfortable on the posterior, it is far outweighed by its charm, ambience and acoustic qualities.
As the recently rare Manchester sunshine poured through the stained glass windows, we arrived early to check out the support act Andy Shauf. Hailing from Canada, they arrived on stage 40 minutes late, much to the impatience of a watch-checking audience. The long haired and somewhat bedraggled Shauf, with the support of the three members of his band, gave a mixed performance. The set varied wildly from odd keyboard melodies and a 70’s-esque opening song, to more funky upbeat tunes, back to almost 50’s New York rock and roll. With a Beatles bass and indie-hippie lead, the foursome, with a vague semblance to a Band Of Horses type style, seemed to lack identity. Any clear direction was lacking and accompanied by the absence of rapport with the crowd between songs, they never really got the fans going. That being said the songs, diverse as they were did have a flow, albeit ambiguous, and were accomplished in their playing style. I will be checking out their music to see if there is any more substance to them.
As the masses continued to swell into the hall, both onto the dance floor and in the galleries surrounding, the sun dropped, cascading fading beams of light down onto the stage – an apt, natural lowering of the lights prior to the main event. You could see the anticipation and excitement in the gatherers in the build up to The Lumineers’ impending arrival. Fans draped over the balconies eager for a first look at the charismatic Wesley Schultz and co., who arrived on stage in pitch black, with the lights suddenly shooting on to the band, arms aloft against the epic pipe organ towering above them.
Their opening song, and indeed the opening track on their newly released second album Cleopatra, was Sleep On The Floor. The first chords have what I can only assume is a purposeful resemblance of their most famous track Ho, Hey. That ignited the reaction of the congregation who revelled in their acknowledgement of the band’s new repertoire, as well as the more peripheral fans who prematurely celebrated the song which had perhaps brought them there. With an abrupt finish to the opener, they rolled straight into album title track Cleopatra. Already an upbeat, stomping folk anthem, the five piece carried the momentum forward. Followed by a couple of old time sing-along favourites including Classy Girls, the lights dropped again, raising to all members lined up at the front of the stage.
With a change to more basic instruments, the band broke into Ho, Hey, much to the pleasure of everyone attending. At this point, Shultz requested that phones be put away and that everyone just enjoy the gig with their own eyes and ears. A heart warming, and well worked mixture of the old and new songs, constant changes in instruments and the bands participation made for great dynamics, keeping the listeners enthralled throughout. Slow It Down, a solo effort to start with, slowly building via the introduction of funky foot drums and double bass, was a stand out track, as was In The Light with its melodic guitars and almost vintage French-folk unexpected chord changes – a definite favourite of mine from their latest offerings.
The new album follows pretty much the same vein as the previous, and for a second album this is no slight. Where perhaps Mumford and Sons’ Babel came across as at that point unoriginal for them, this opens up to a thankful feast of yet more tub-thumping, string-bending, folk joys, intermingled with the soft (but almost scratchy), heart melting ballads which work in a way that Mumford’s did not.
Obligatory encores included a great rendition of Submarines, performed solo by Schultz, this time displaying his skills on piano, before again a build up to a triumphant crescendo with two sets of drums accompanying. The gig ended what was clearly a firm favourite (judging by the numerous almost comical screams of the title throughout the event at any quiet point), Stubborn Love. Not one derrière was left on the seats as everyone jumped, sang, screamed and danced to the music. You could tell that whether you were new to the Lumineers, or they had been a long-time favourite, that everyone enjoyed this gig. It was impossible not to. The sound was large when it needed to be, and then alternatively soft and flowing. There was almost a party vibe, and not only was Schultz captivating (it’s no wonder the ladies were crooning over him), but the rest of the band endeared themselves to the crowd with their enthusiasm and almost playful demeanour on stage. After playing they all hugged it out and spent time throwing out set-lists, plectrums and drumsticks to the crowd. The drummer even scaled up the balcony, much to the horror of their security entourage, to give a set-list to a young disabled boy, much to the appreciation of everyone.
All in all this was an outstanding and highly-enjoyable gig. Everyone was buzzing on their way back to their respective cars, trains and homes. The Manchester streets were alive on a Tuesday night with talk of The Lumineers, who blew everyone away with their vigour and obvious enjoyment in their own music. Not only did their performance and new tracks from Cleopatra stand out, but they also seem like a bloody good bunch of chaps.