The Lumineers are a band that have consistently surprised me. I wrote them off as a Mumford clone and they came back with a brilliant second album. I wondered whether they may have bitten off more than they could chew by releasing a hard hitting concept album, only for it to be one of the stand out releases of 2019. Last time I saw The Lumineers it was in a much smaller venue, but this latest tour in support of III finds them setting their sights on arena crowds. The old me might have questioned this big leap and had doubts about whether they were really arena material. If I’ve learnt anything these past few years however it’s that you should never sell this band short, and this gig only served to prove that point further.
Amazingly it was my first time at Manchester Arena, and I made sure to get a good spot ahead of the support act. As it happens, SOAK turned out to be a curious opening act. With a vague awareness of her earlier work, I was expecting acoustic singer/songwriter type fare. Instead we were treated to a dash of dream pop with a lush full band arrangement. Bit of a shaky start, didn’t really grab me at first, but she had won me over by the end of her set with chill atmospheres and some decent hooks. While I preferred this new sound overall, in this particular setting however it felt a bit out of place. If she had fallen back on her folky side a bit more she would have made a better fit for an opening act. Also probably would have enjoyed it more were it not for the two people talking in front of me the whole way through. Why anyone would pay good money to come to a gig and then not even pay attention to it will forever remain a mystery to me!
When The Lumineers took to the stage it wasn’t the music that impressed me most; that’s a given. When performing to arena sized crowds you need more than just good music, you need to put on a show that’s a feast for the senses, and the band delivered in that regard. I constantly found myself struck by the excellent lighting and stage set-up. The band made great use of the three-pronged screen behind them in particular, depicting crashing waves for ‘Submarines’ and ‘Salt and the Sea’, and some stunning rising embers for my highlight of the night ‘Jimmy Sparks’. Confetti cannons towards the end of their set were certainly a nice surprise, throwing something tactile into the mix, as well as a bit of carefree joy to boot!
The setlist was a great mix of tracks from across all three of their records, with each batch of songs adding something different to the night. The new tracks often were the ones which took a step back and relied more on atmosphere than hooks, like the dark tension of ‘My Cell’. Obviously early hits like ‘Ho Hey’ put the emphasis on the crowd, getting people singing along, but on tracks like ‘Ophelia’ and ‘Cleopatra’ the band just dove headfirst into them with boundless energy and admirable musicianship. They were slick, they were engaging, and they damn well put on a show! They’ve taken to the big leagues like a duck to water. I think it’s high time I stop being surprised by this band and just start expecting great things, because in my experience that’s what they always manage to deliver.