The Lumineers – Johnny Brenda’s – 1.31.13 The Lumineers – Johnny Brenda’s – 1.31.13

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April 24th, 2012. The Lumineers are an up and coming band out of Denver touring relentlessly on the small concert circuit while steadily gaining a humble following through word of mouth. They come to Philadelphia and do a one off gig opening for the Kopecky Family Band at Johnny Brenda’s, a 250 capacity bar in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown. Only minutes after the show ended, my phone started blowing up with rave reviews of this new “rootsy Americana style” band that I had to check out.

About four months later, I got my chance when the band opened up for Old Crowe Medicine Show at the Electric Factory. Being a huge Old Crowe fan I knew I would get my money’s worth, but had no idea that this new band still making their name would be the cause for a sold out show. Packed into the Electric Factory’s sweaty warehouse, I had never experienced such palpable energy for an opening act. As the Lumineers came to the stage, girls started screaming and swooning and the guy next to me started jumping up and down out of pure anticipation for what was to follow. The stage was adorned with glass chandelier structures and gave the impression of an upscale, old-fashioned hoedown straight out of what very well could have been a Bill Monroe show at the Grand Ole Opry. While I only recognized a handful of songs (namely their big hit, “Ho Hey”) the performance was clearly that of an energetic band hitting their stride and enjoying the ride. A personal highlight, however, was the choice cover of Bob Dylan/The Band’s “I shall Be Released” and “Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” as part of an encore celebration with Old Crowe Medicine Show. It was an appropriate acknowledgement by Old Crowe of a band poised to take off.

Fast forward to Philadelphia, January 31st, 2013. The Lumineers self-titled album has peaked at number 2 on the US billboard charts and their single, “Ho Hey,” has peaked in the top 5 on virtually every chart in the world. They have toured with The Dave Matthews Band and recently been nominated for two Grammys. Needless to say, when the announcement came that they would play the famous Tower Theatre in Upper Darby – a 3100 capacity venue played by everyone from David Bowie to Jerry Garcia – not many were surprised. The $80 price tag, however, meant that I was unlikely to attend.

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That afternoon, however, I got word of a private show to be played as a part of a local radio contest. When one of my friends asked if I was a fan of the Lumineers, I didn’t realize that she was offering me her plus one on the guestlist. She pulled some strings and, soon, I found myself at Johnny Brenda’s with a mix of contest winners and local music personalities. As Wesley Schultz, lead singer and guitar player for the band remarked, “A year ago, we were so excited that we would be playing here as it was the biggest venue of our tour.” Oddly enough, the biggest venue of this tour to date would be that night’s gig at the Tower Theatre. But better than witnessing this all come full circle was the fact that a band that is experiencing great acclaim and commercial success, still takes the time to play a show for its fans that got them there, and only 3 hours before its headlining show across town.

While the energy was not quite what I had experienced several months earlier, the intimate setting of the venue was still quite special. After walking past a cramped bar filled with choice selections of craft beer and wine, Johnny Brenda’s opens up into a cozy room with little more than a stage, disco ball, and a 50 person capacity balcony with an amazing view overlooking the musicians below. This time around, in addition to everyone else, I was much more familiar with all of their music. It was like watching a neighborhood band where the audience seemed like old friends and family who are more than happy to sing along and know every word to every song. The Lumineers are able to elicit this because no matter how much fame and popularity they gain they remain very accessible in an almost inexplicable way. They’re reminiscent of a band you might stumble across at your local coffee shop. What’s cool is they seem to know this and almost play off that vibe by offering up treats like this show for their loyal fans.

As for the actual show, they offered up a tasty 45 minute set, playing most of their debut album in the process. Feeding off the crowd’s energy, the set was filled with stomping, clapping, and lots of crowd participation. The band seemed to acknowledge the special circumstance of the moment when they suggested the audience “Turn off your phones, your friends will believe you.” It was awesome to see that while “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love” are their two hit singles, the crowd reacted to every song with equal excitement. If I had to pick a highlight, it would be their rendition of Saw Mill Joe’s, “I Ain’t Nobody’s Problem,” which you can be sure to expect on their next album. The band really seemed to come alive during this song with lots of smiles, dancing, and flat out enjoyment to go around. What’s great is that they still seem to not only enjoy themselves on stage but also still display a great sense of accomplishment after every show and venue that they rock. After the playing stopped, hugging and affection continued amongst the band members for another several minutes. As I looked around, the crowd looked just as pleased and happy to have experienced the intimacy of this live show taking their cues from the band they had just witnessed.

Thank you Lumineers. It was a great night of music.

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Setlist: Flower’s In Your Hair, Submarine, I Ain’t Nobody’s Problem, Big Parade, Ho Hey, Charlie Boy, Stubborn Love, Dead Sea

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