The Lumineers returned to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday night, treating the crowd to "old" and new indie folk favorites from their two albums — 2012's self-titled debut and the recently-released Cleopatra — with a few extras sprinkled in.
Finally, the staging was revealed in dramatic fashion as a giant black fabric dropped and we saw five elegant pipe/light sculptures that looked a bit like giant wind chimes. Then the band emerged, and the fun began.
The Lumineers led off strong with Cleopatra's opening tracks, "Sleep on the Floor" and the hit "Ophelia." Here the core band — singer/guitarist Wesley Schultz, drummer Jeremiah Fraites and cellist Neyla Pekarek — was augmented by Byron Isaacs on bass and Stelth Ulvang on piano, with one more unidentified guitarist. These songs built up the energy of the crowd, many of whom were singing along with every word. Next up was "Flowers in Your Hair" and "Ho Hey."
Now, at first glance it may seem strange for a band to play their biggest hit a mere four songs into their show. Conventional wisdom would be to save it for an encore, or at least wait until the end of the opening set. But here was "Ho Hey," batting cleanup and knocking it out of the park. When Schultz yelled out, "I want to hear your voices now!," everyone complied, and his command "Now scream!" led the crowd to belt "Sooooo" followed by "we're bleeding out."
But things didn't let up even though the big hit was over. After the song "Cleopatra" came the one-two punch of "Classy Girls," with its very effective tempo changes, and "Dead Sea," which had Schultz pleading/holding, "Would you stay the night?"
"Charlie Boy" was next, then there was a special treat for the people in the seated sections. The core band went up near the soundboard for "Where the Skies Are Blue" with some great singing by Pekarek (why don't they let her sing more leads?), "Scotland" and a somewhat darker and slower cover of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." During the latter, Schultz made his way through the crowd back up to the stage, starting "Slow It Down" on his own before being rejoined by the band, and with some more cool tempo changes.
Then, just before singing "Gun Song," Schultz made a "deal" with the audience that they would put their phones away after the song concluded, a valiant effort to try to get people to enjoy the moment rather than trying to capture it on a tiny screen. Sadly, not everyone could resist. But the attempt was appreciated and made me think of the recent screening of the Monterey International Pop Festival film at the Plaza Playhouse Theater in Carpinteria, which in addition to documenting some phenomenal music shows plenty of footage of the crowd — gasp! — attentively watching the performers without cell phone distraction.
Apart from "Big Parade" with its "Oh my my / Oh hey hey's," the rest of the main set focused on tracks from Cleopatra. Now I'll be honest, after the magic of the first album and a four-year wait, I was a little disappointed when I first heard the Cleopatra album, which seemed at times to drag. But hearing the new songs live really helped me appreciate them.
The main set wrapped up with "My Eyes" and the delicate instrumental "Patience" played on the piano by Fraites. The crowd cried out for an encore, and Schultz returned to the piano for "Submarines," during which he was joined by the rest of the band. Next came "Flapper Girl" and "Stubborn Love," a fine close to an amazing concert.
We're fortunate that The Lumineers have already paid several visits to our town, and since they seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the Santa Barbara audience, maybe we'll be seeing more of them in the future.
Sleep on the Floor
Flowers in Your Hair
Where the Skies Are Blue
Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan cover)
Slow It Down
In the Light
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.