It’s been hot. Hot as hell. Hot as balls. So hot, it’s easy to forget that the current heat wave stretched all the way back to the Friday before last, when The Lumineers opened for Brandi Carlile at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Somehow, despite temperatures that rendered backs unattractively sweaty and the last third of beers practically undrinkable, the Denver-based quintet performed a scorcher of an early-evening set, one that ended in a well-earned standing ovation.
Of all the things I enjoyed about seeing The Lumineers, more than a week later, I still can’t get over how well Wesley Schultz’s songwriting and Jeremiah Fraites’ percussion go together. Seeing them in the live setting cemented my belief that they’re a match made in momentum-generation heaven. Schultz’s songs progress and change so nimbly — with rushed phrasing here and rest measures removed there — that his performance at Lewis Ginter could have doubled as a clinic in grabbing and keeping an audience’s attention. “Flowers In Your Hair” and “Big Parade” have a fascinating density, presenting full-sized stories that are boiled down to the essential elements. (Sorry for all the heat imagery. Did I mention it’s more than 85 degrees inside my house right now?)
Fraites’ accompaniment moved things forward just as efficiently, but from a completely different angle. Though he had a drum kit at his disposal near the back of the stage, Fraites spent a large chunk of the set at a stripped-down setup near the front, stomping a second kick drum and ratcheting the intensity of songs up and down. His instincts about when to exert his influence were spot-on, as he went about building space for Schultz one moment and driving rhythms the next, his entrances and exits a band member unto themselves. By their powers combined, Schultz and Fraites are like old-school railroad workers, taking turns shoveling coal into the fire of a steam-powered locomotive. Did I choose THAT comparison because it’s 85 degrees in my house? Maybe. Does that make it any less fitting? Nope!
One of my favorite examples of their knack for impetus came early on in the set, when they performed a hard-charging cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Their version felt swift, but much of the momentum was derived from the furious breaks between verses, turning a lyric-driven song on its head. I am desperately hoping they’ll commit their version to tape for the B-side of some future 7-inch record, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll perform the song again when they return to Richmond to open up for Old Crow Medicine Show at Maymont on August 1. Check out the above clip of The Lumineers performing “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in Boston earlier this year to see what I’m talking about, and listen below to “Flowers In Your Hair,” which appears on their kickass eponymous album.