Anyone wondering why rustic folk and roots pop trio The Lumineers are playing arenas need only go see and hear them play an arena. Like the Bell Centre, for example, where on Saturday night they kept a full house cheering and on their feet for a show that hit every note, both literally and figuratively, pretty much perfectly.
As has been the case throughout their Cleopatra World Tour — their first arena tour, following the release of their sophomore full-length Cleopatra last April, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 — The Lumineers prefaced their set with a recording of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. They played live percussion behind it, gradually upping the volume until, slowly, the audience caught on that this was more than just a warm-up tune. The lights dropped, the curtain rose and The Lumineers — their usual three expanded to six live — launched into uptempo opening song Submarines. The crowd erupted and the band never looked back.
“This is a tremendous amount of people to come out to a show,” said singer/guitarist Wesley Schultz, eyeing the Bell Centre audience appreciatively following Submarines, “and this is amazing!”
Schultz took extra care to engage the audience. When by their third song, Ho Hey (their signature hit off their 2012 self-titled debut), he announced that “I want to hear your voices,” he did, in a thousands-strong campfire-style sing-along.
The Lumineers are a live band, and if you fail to feel their recorded appeal, you wouldn’t be alone. But live is a different story. Their songs are simple, short and concise, and they aren’t overloaded with instrumentation, but in a concert setting they achieve their full size and sentiment. From Ho Hey they moved through popular tracks Cleopatra, Gun Song (prior to which Schultz shared a touching anecdote about his now-deceased father) and the anthemic Dead Sea. Following these, and much to the delight of those assembled, they moved to a stripped-down setup at centre ice.
Using only stand-up bass, cello, a three-piece drum kit, piano and acoustic guitar, the band ran through five more songs. The easy highlight was the soulful Where the Skies Are Blue, showcasing the vocals of cellist/bassist Neyla Pekarek, with harmonies strongly and appropriately reminiscent of the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac. A close second was the centre-stage, set-closing track Slow it Down, a melancholic duet with Schultz and multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Fraites, which brought the cell phone flashlights out in force. Lumineers, indeed.
Then back on the main stage, the band powered seamlessly through hits like Angela and Ophelia, covering Tom Petty’s Walls before Fraites finished the set with the instrumental piano solo Patience. Respectfully, they went straight into the three-song encore: Schultz solo on Long Way from Home, then an imaginative, darkly tinged version of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues and finally the foot-stomping sing-along Stubborn Love. Said Schultz just prior to closing the show: “Last time we played here, it was at Metropolis, and the only reason we’re here [at the Bell Centre] is because of you. So thank you.”
The gratitude, to say the least, went both ways.