The folk-rock group The Lumineers came to John Paul Jones Arena Sunday night on their world tour, entitled “III” — their third studio album. “III” is a story about a family riddled by addiction, divided into three chapters with three songs each. The co-founders of the group, Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites, drew from personal experiences to sing candidly about the struggles families face. Although the songs are sonically similar to prior Lumineers songs — happy and intricate — the band chose to juxtapose their style with a subject matter that is aching, raw and disturbing.
The audience at JPJ was introduced to this dichotomy with a video that played before the band came on stage. In the video, a mother chugged liquor from a bottle while holding her infant child in her arms to snippets of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” This video is from the short film, also called “III,” The Lumineers produced to accompany their new album, which was shown in the background on stage throughout the concert. In this way the band weaved stunning cinematography with an outstanding musical narrative for a live show.
The concert’s defining feature was the band’s genuine and fun interaction with the crowd. All members of The Lumineers were energetic on stage and made JPJ feel like a small, intimate venue. Schultz’s storytelling ability does not end at the lyrics he writes, but continued into his performance when he explained the deeply personal experiences behind some of his songs. For example, he explained that “Gun Song” was written after he found a gun in his deceased father’s sock drawer, creating questions about his father’s life that can never be answered.
The Lumineers performed two covers, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan and “Democracy” by Leonard Cohen. The cover of “Democracy” is a bonus track on “III,” but these two songs combined the concert’s storyline with a subtle reflection of today’s political landscape through the lens of poverty, community and family. Despite having many positive songs in their repertoire, the band wasn’t apprehensive about playing a concert that compelled the audience to empathize with disturbing topics. In between enthusiastic renditions of their more popular hits “Ho Hey” and “Cleopatra,” songs like “Leader of the Landslide,” “It Wasn’t Easy to Be Happy For You” and “Salt and the Sea” urged the audience to sit down and experience what being in a family plagued by addiction feels like.
Folk music has been a catharsis for generations of tribulation. What is striking about The Lumineers is that they have been able to pay homage to folk’s historical roots while still being successful in the age of synthesizers and auto-tone. The passion they have for their craft was on display through the many different facets of their show. Each member of the band plays multiple instruments, and they all are dynamic on stage.
The eternally barefoot Stelth Ulvang had deep scratches on his acoustic guitar from strumming too harshly with his pick, Byron Issacs constantly had a smile on his face while playing his bass and Schultz jumped off the stage and walked through the crowd, even up into the seated sections. Lauren Jacobson’s violin brought forth the uniqueness of the band’s sound and the deep percussion of Brandon Miller and Ulvang encouraged the audience to clap and stomp along throughout the show.
The Lumineers’ concert showed the audience that even though bad things are inevitable in life, coming together to express negative emotions through song is healing. This world tour will surely cement The Lumineers’ status in music history as the effervescent folk group of our generation, following in the windy path left by Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bob Dylan and the Almanac Singers.