Picture that cliché feeling of driving with your windows down, scream-singing on a summer day. Now take that feeling and multiply it by 100 and you have yourself a Lumineers concert. The Lumineers played a nearly sold-out show at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night, marking the second time in less than a year the folk-rock band has graced the city with its boisterous energy.
The group opened with songs from their 2012 self-titled album, including the piano-driven “Submarines” and the short and sweet “Flowers in Your Hair.” Before venturing into music from their latest album, 2016’s Cleopatra, the band played their hit “Ho Hey,” a folk-rooted singalong that soared to #2 on the Billboard 200 in 2012. At the peak of the song’s success, many critics dismissed the band as a one-hit-wonder, prone to getting trapped in the novelty of their sound. But if there is one thing that seeing The Lumineers perform live has shown me, it’s that the band is so much more than their almost-one and done. Over and over again, they craft emotion into stomps and hollers, kick-drums and tambourines, hums and whistles. To not tap your foot along at the very minimum would be an act of physical restraint.
The rest of the set included standouts from the new album, with personal favorites like “Sleep on the Floor” and “Angela.” Other standouts included covers of Tom Petty’s “Walls” and Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in the encore. Though the entirety of the set was generally upbeat in tone, lead singer Wesley Schultz took pause during the encore to introduce the song “Long Way From Home,” telling the story of his father who died of cancer. The song, which details lengthy final days, wrenches the heart with its muted instrumentals and crescendoed, pained and sometimes shaky vocals.
In short, where The Lumineers excel in their live performance is the way they make even the largest venues seem like a form of community. In the two times I have seen the band live, I have found myself unphased by otherwise irritating crowd sizes. But further than that, they make listening to music a non-passive activity, an exercise in joy. In the space they create, your resting face is a smile.