The Lumineers, from left: Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek. (Mark Sink/Big Hassle )
It’s hard to refute lyrical shout-alongs, tough to unpack a bunch of scream-with-the-band “Ho heys,” “Oh-ee-oohs” and “Ooohs” in search of deeper meaning.
Such sounds are, after all, little more than animal noises, with messages that transcend language. And as the Denver (by way of New Jersey) folk rock band the Lumineers have discovered, people sure do like barking them out loud.
Performing the first of two sold-out shows at the Fonda in Hollywood, the young trio, best known for the hit song “Ho Hey,” which its members played twice in a row Monday, has captured America gradually over the last year, and it’s been a fascinating rise.
On Monday at the Fonda, the band proved why: Its members are really good, they have a wonderful onstage chemistry, and even if they’re not the most original outfit on the planet, their barebones scream-along anthems are part of a centuries-old call-and-response tradition that has helped define the country’s music.
Led by magnetic singer-guitarist Wesley Schultz, who wore a hat that looked nicked from a 1930s Dust Bowl farmhand, the trio also features percussionist-multi-instrumentalist-suspender-wearer Jeremiah Fraites and cellist-singer Neyla Pekarek and is augmented on tour with a pair of multi-instrumentalists.
Circumventing the hipster scene altogether, the band formed in New Jersey a few years ago, but when looking to further its career, selected not Brooklyn but Denver.
The Lumineers released their self-titled debut in April, and word-of-mouth began shortly thereafter. In May, “Today Show” correspondent Sara Haines told fourth-hour host Kathie Lee Gifford that she was obsessed with the band, and within days the Lumineers' debut had cracked the iTunes chart, where it has lingered ever since.
An infectious ad for Microsoft’s Bing search engine featured “Ho Hey.” Marcus Mumford of the popular British band Mumford & Sons cited the band as one of his favorites. And so on.
On Monday, the Lumineers’ video for “Ho Hey” surpassed 8 million views on YouTube, and you can bet that a few thousand of those were logged by fans at the Fonda, who bellowed lyrics to tracks such as “Dead Sea,” “Big Parade” and, of course, “Ho Hey.”
Performing most of the songs from that debut, the group traveled a path that’s worked for other musical acts of late. The opening song of its set, “Submarine,” suggested an anthemic Arcade Fire unplugged. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros are an obvious touchstone on “Ho Hey.” Both trade in a certain rusticity that seems a foil to the lightning speed world of the Internet.
Almost to a fault, in fact. At their weakest, as on “Charlie Boy,” about a soldier’s funeral, the Lumineers' quest for simplicity was anchored by heavy-handed imagery. And “Flapper Girl” suffered from a similar musical concern; when tweaking an age-old piano-based melody, the result was less a surprise than a predictable inevitability.
But don’t say that in front of this crowd, which participated whenever it could. During a fantastic mid-set version of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” we all chanted David Byrne’s chorus.
The Lumineers closed with the Band’s “The Weight,” whose chorus has its own singalong refrain, one that many in the young crowd (as well as openers Bad Weather California, who joined them onstage for the encore) no doubt internalized through their parents. The evidence: When the lyric came around, the Fonda’s capacity crowd harmonized along: “You put the load right on me,” they sang.
Luckily, the band proved strong enough to carry it.
Review: Odd Future's Flog Gnaw Carnival at Club Nokia
Chris Thile of Punch Brothers reportedly wins 'genius grant'
Live review: Wilco and Joanna Newsom at the Hollywood Bowl
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit