LAWRENCE -- Hype is momentum on fire, and right now you can see the flames surrounding the Lumineers from a fair distance.
Monday night, five months after it sold out the Riot Room in Westport, the Denver trio (with two backing musicians) filled Liberty Hall from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. More than an hour before the doors opened, a line stretched south down Massachusetts Avenue and then east down Seventh Street, all for a band that released its first and only album less than six months ago.
Monday’s set from start through the encore lasted about 72 minutes. Lead singer Wesley Schultz, whose voice bears a resemblance to David Gray’s, added more time with a solo-acoustic cover of Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather” that deserved more attention than it got. The rest of the set was as entertaining as it was uneven. The crowd was wound-up for the big moments, two of which came early: “Big Parade,” one of the best songs on “Lumineers.” Two songs later came another, “Ho Hey,” and the crowd fell into its role immediately, chanting the song’s title, then singing along to its silly-love-song chorus -- “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweet heart” -- like an auditorium full of first-graders performing their favorite nursery rhyme.
There were outbursts of singing, dancing and/or clapping during “Classy Girls” and “Flowers In Your Hair.” None got the response of “Stubborn Love,” the album’s best and best-known song The audience sang back each “oooh, oooh” and “ahhh, ahhh” with the vigor of a World Cup soccer crowd.
But the show suffered some lulls and down times, too. When you wind up a room like this band can, the crowd can have a tough time tolerating the midtempo numbers. And during “Dead Sea,” “Charlie Boy” and even the spritely “Flapper Girl,” the crowd around me (by the soundboard) lost interest as it awaited the next big number.
Other areas could use some attention. It would be nice to see and hear more of cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek, who showed during the encore that she may have the best voice in the band. Her mates aren’t virtuosos on their instruments but they capably service primitive songs built primarily on rhythm and groove. Perhaps the instrumental details will come later.
The ending of the show was flat, almost disappointing. It included two covers, a necessity perhaps for a band with one album on its resume. They also tried to execute an unamplfied version of “Darlene” by unplugging and stepping away from the microphones. It’s a novel idea, but one that has been done many times before and better, most recently by Brandi Carlile at the Uptown. The crowd provided some percussion by stomping the floor, but the for the most part the performance was, at best, charmingly sloppy. After that, they were joined by openers the Comettes for a straightforward performance of the Band’s “The Weight,” a song that has been covered more times than the infield at Fenway Park. After that, Shultz returned for his barely audible Dylan cover. Not exactly a luminous finale.
There were more than enough high-energy moments to justify the hype around the Lumineers. It has the early, fundamental markings of a first-rate band that could only get bigger. But I can think of several local bands that are as good, even better.. So some work is in order if the momentum is going to last. More good songs are needed, soon, because fire needs air and when you break it down, songs are a band’s oxygen.
Setlist: Submarines; Ain’t Nobody’s Problem; Big Parade; Classy Girls; Ho Hey; Flowers In Your Hair; Dead Sea; Charlie Boy; Slow It Down; Elouise; Stubborn Love; Flapper Girl. Encore: Darlene; The Weight; Boots of Spanish Leather.