A few times a year, word of mouth about a band spreads at an unusually rapid pace. You can almost track the buzz in real time. First you hear a murmur or see a headline on some music blog that this band or that one might be good, then somebody you know tells you they think you would like them. Then you start getting e-mails from breathless publicists practically offering you their firstborn to come check out the show.
This is not that unusual. Every band is the greatest band since the Beatles, if someone is paying you to say that. But when you notice someone has been bumped up from the downstairs stage at Fitzgerald's to upstairs -- a difference of 300 tickets, roughly -- just a couple of days before they're scheduled to play, that's what makes the eyebrow really go up.
It's about to happen again tonight, with the Denver indie-folk trio the Lumineers. After their appearance at SXSW barely two months ago -- which lit the fuse thanks to the accolades of The New York Times, LA Times and Chicago Tribune -- the Lumineers sold more than 10,000 copies of their self-titled debut LP on Dualtone Records, good enough for No. 43 on the Billboard 200. They have been feted in their hometown weekly (and Houston Press sister paper) Westword, added to the Austin City Limits Music Festival and sold out two nights at Denver's Bluebird Theater.
On one of Mediabase's AAA bubbling-under airplay charts, "Ho Hey" -- an echo-chamber yelp from their debut -- Lumineers are at the top of this week's "Spincrease" most-added list, above even new songs from Bonnie Raitt and fun. Houston seems primed to welcome Lumineers with open arms.
In a town that's been going crazy for Buxton the past couple of years, where the Avett Brothers is the last band to play Free Press Summer Fest (before the big Pretty Lights dance party), it's not that hard to understand. Even almost 50 years after Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt were plucking their strings at Anderson Fair and the Jester Lounge, Houston audiences love folk songs and can be pretty serious about it.
I listened to Lumineers a few times this morning to see what all the fuss is about. (Also, to see if I was still interested in seeing them live at Fitz tonight.) I imagine folks who are really into the Avett Brothers will really dig this, but I'm not really into the Avett Brothers. Apart from obvious single "Ho Hey" -- no wonder it's getting all those adds, a couple of songs jumped out, "Submarines" and "Charlie Boy." "Morning Song" proves they're not afraid of electricity. (They should use it more often.)
On the other hand, after Lumineers was finished playing, my iTunes flipped over to Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend." Granted, it's a longtime favorite, but nothing on their album grabbed me anywhere close to that rush of energy I got from Sweet's opening chords.
I think I can see what the Lumineers are going for. The songs are catchy and, in the right setting (I'm sure), genuinely moving. The real question is, should I take bands like the Lumineers as seriously as they seem to take themselves? Is it enough for a group to have a lilting melody and a furrowed brow, or do they need to be truly transcendent to move the needle?
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They do to move mine (like that guitar solo in "Girlfriend"), but one of the advisories that have come with all this praise for the Lumineers is that they're one of those groups who must be seen live to truly put that needle into the red. Luckily, they're in town in just a few more hours.