Some thoughts from last year’s Ottawa Bluesfest for you today. The Lumineers are performing tonight in Toronto, opening up for U2. I saw them last summer and was, as you will see below, intrigued by the interaction between band and audience. I thought it appropriate to repeat those observations today, and I am kind of curious if that connection will hold in a stadium setting.
U2 have never been afraid to hire great opening acts. They introduced me to two of my favourites, The Alarm and Lone Justice. In some ways tonight is a disappointment because I already know The Lumineers. Still, there’s nothing wrong with getting to hear them again. It has been almost a year, I don’t imagine the set will have changed very much. But at least tonight I don’t have to worry about the rain.
It was one of those songs, an ear worm that gets into your head and won’t leave. A huge hit, the sort of thing every new band dreams of and prays for.
There is more to The Lumineers than “Ho Hey,” from their 2012 debut album, as they proved during a very damp set this past Saturday at the RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Touring in support of their latest album, Cleopatra, their rootsy performance connected with the audience from the outset. The pouring rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the band nor the crowd.
These days it seems, when I go to a concert I spend almost as much time thinking about the audience as I do listening to the music. Must be a sign of age: I want to know why a particular artist connects with those listening, and how deep that connection goes.
I was introduced to The Lumineers music by my children. I do try to keep up with pop music, but there are only so many minutes in a day. If I am listening to new stuff then I don’t get to enjoy older songs. And since I already listen to a lot of new material professionally, it is easy for me to not be aware of all the latest and greatest.
But we have the first Lumineers record, and I listened to an advance stream of Cleopatra before its release. So I knew what I was letting myself in for: an acoustic oriented collection of songs aimed at people looking for but not necessarily finding meaning in life. Think Mumford and Sons with a cello and mandolin instead of a banjo.
My conclusion is that this is a band that owes much of its success to having forged an emotional connection with its audience. The songs are bittersweet, and I have to wonder if that is a reflection of where we are as a culture these days. Maybe it is just me, but I don’t see much optimism or hope in their songs, just a shared sorrow at the way life is. Maybe everyone is feeling down these days; not quite hopeless, but not optimistic either.
It was raining when the band took the stage, but that didn’t seem to matter to either the musicians or the audience. The band looked like they were having fun; the crowd certainly was. It wasn’t the first show I have been to that was essentially a singalong. I’m sure it won’t be the last. The level of the singing though surprised me – it seemed everyone knew the words to every song and joined in.
That shared experience made the rain irrelevant, especially when the band came out into the audience and used a mini-stage that had been set up near the sound board. For people who had been far back with a limited view, suddenly the band was up close and personal. Apparently the rain doesn’t hurt cell phones, because lots of them were in evidence, preserving the moment.
I am left to wonder if this singalong atmosphere is a new trend for newer acts, though I haven’t seen enough of them in concert to be sure. Have concerts become more interactive than they used to be? How (and why) has a generation raised outside of church suddenly found that it has a musical voice? Public singing became a rarity once churchgoing fell out of fashion, say about 50 years ago. Are groups like The Lumineers leading a resurgence? Or is this just a blip? Now I wish I had bought a pass for the entire festival so I could investigate this more closely.
Maybe next year.