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Concert Reviews:
Lumineers light up Little Caesars with big room brand of folk-rock

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Saturday, February 8, 2020

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DETROIT -- "This is an unbelievable amount of people. This is overwhelming to us," the Lumineers Wesley Schultz told a nearly full Little Caesars Arena on Friday night, Feb. 7 -- later adding "thank you for listening to music like this in such a big room."

Schultz and company, however, have been playing those large spaces for a long time, since shortly after the Lumineers' 2012 breakthrough hit "Ho Hey." And the sextet does it as well as bands that were more determinedly built for those environs.

On paper the Lumineers is an unlikely headliner for an arena or amphitheater. The Denver sextet plays a contemporary brand of folk-rock, dominated by hollow-bodied guitars, violin and cello, upright piano, non-electronic percussion and ebb-and-flow arrangements that are no stranger to quiet. But on stage Friday, the group once again managed to fill the "big room" with a forceful presence, combining personality and production along with a sense of dynamic that made for a righteous hour and 50 minutes of music.

It does help that the Lumineers -- topping a potent bill that included J.S. Ondara, accompanied only by a string trio, and the shimmering Mt. Joy -- knows how to make it look as well as sound. The stage for its current tour features a multi-layered visual presentation unveiled gradually over the course of the show, as well as a catwalk jutting off the main stage and bordering part of the ground in a standing-room pit between them. The ramp was no mere gimmick, either; Schultz and fellow co-founder Jeremiah Fraites, in his trademark white T-shirt, suspenders and Fedora, started the show there with "Sleep on the Floor," while they and their bandmates spent plenty of time out there throughout the night.

Schultz also took a long, crowd-pleasing walk through the arena, even into the lower grandstands, during "Angela." And even these 21st century folkies couldn't resist throwing in a confetti shower at the end of the main-show closer "Big Parade."

All of that brought some very personal music very, well, up close and personal -- particularly important since the groups' latest album, "III," is a thematic work about family members' struggles with addiction. Schultz spoke openly about that before "Leader of the Landslide," noting that since the album's release last fall he's been surprised that "far too many people are dealing with this, too." A selection of bloody, Southern gothic-style videos bolstered the resonance of "Gloria," "Jimmy Sparks" and "April"/"Salt and Sea" -- sometimes in stark, moving contrast to the upbeat tenor of the songs.

The Lumineers also paced the set well, placing big hits such as "Ho Hey," "Angela," "Cleopatra." "Ophelia" and "Stubborn Love" at impactful intervals. Schultz played a solo version of "Left For Denver," while he and Fraites performed "Donna," the first encore, as a duo. A rendition of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" let the group get its jam on a bit, particularly spotlighting violinist Lauren Jacobson, in her first tour with the Lumineers. Ondara and Mt. Joy frontman Matt Quinn, meanwhile, came back out to each take a verse on Leonard Cohen's "Democracy," the most overtly political statement of the show.

Just a week into its current road trip, the Lumineers were in fine, mid-tour form -- and, once again, mastered a "big room" with an exceptional, and enviable, ease.

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