Vocalist/guitarist Wesley Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites were friends as youth in Ramsey, New Jersey. After years of practicing music together in the Fraites home, they moved to New York City in 2005 and began to perform, sometimes with other musicians, under the names 6Cheek and Wesley Jeremiah at the Bitter End and the Lion’s Den. One night, an emcee incorrectly introduced the band as the Lumineers and the name stuck. In 2009, Schultz and Fraites decided to relocate somewhere with a lower cost of living; after considering London, Philadelphia, and Boston, Fraites and Schultz moved to Denver, Colorado, where they joined the open mic scene. Banding with other musicians, the Lumineers built a following and the success of the band’s first two multi-platinum albums led to headlining arena tours around the world. The Lumineers will release a third album, entitled III, on September 13, 2019.
The Lumineers headlined the first night of the two-night ALT 92.3 FM’s Summer Open concerts at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens. Schultz and Fraites were joined on stage by multi-instrumentalists Stelth Ulvang and Lauren Jacobson, guitarist Brandon Miller, and bassist Byron Isaacs, for a fast-moving hour set that packed many of the band’s best known songs, plus four songs from the forthcoming album. Schultz’s vocal inflections recalled early American folk heroes, with accordion, fiddle, and other instruments providing a rustic backdrop and the rhythm section providing adrenalin-pumping arrangements. The amplified sound turned the toe-tappers into raging fist-pumpers, and the rocking tempo turned the hoedown into a barn burner. The Lumineers might not be purists when it comes to Americana music, but the band also has not sold out its roots, and if rock and Americana was ever to marry, this is where it was destined to go for its honeymoon.
The Head and the Heart/Forest Hills Stadium, Queens/June 23, 2019
Seeking a graduate degree, vocalist/guitarist Josiah Johnson moved from Southern California to Seattle. Navigating Seattle’s open mic circuit in 2009, Johnson met vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Russell, a recent transplant from Richmond, Virginia. They met keyboardist Kenny Hensley, who had also moved to Seattle to pursue musical score-writing, and violinist Charity Rose Thielen, who had recently returned from a year studying abroad in Paris. Russell drafted drummer Tyler Williams, who had played in the pop-rock band Prabir & the Substitutes in Richmond. Finally, the indie folk band that was coming to be known as the Head and the Heart recruited bassist Chris Zasche, who was bartending and playing in Seattle bands the Maldives and Grand Hallway. According to Johnson, the name of the band was chosen because “your head is telling you to be stable and find a good job, [but] you know in your heart that [the band] is what you’re supposed to do even if it’s crazy.” In 2011, Seattle’s City Arts magazine named the Head and the Heart as the city’s Best New Band. By 2013, the band’s second album started getting national attention and both the band and its music increasingly found placement in popular television programs and films. Johnson left the band in 2016 to recover from drug addiction; Russell became the band’s focal point and Thielen’s husband, Matt Gervais, replaced Johnson in the lineup. The Head and the Heart released its fourth studio album, Living Mirage, on May 17, 2019.
The folk rock genre has mushroomed in the past decade, so the timing is right for a band like the Head and the Heart to find sufficient popular appeal, to headline the second night of ALT 92.3 FM’s Summer Open at Forest Hills Stadium. The spectrum of the genre is wide, and the Head and the Heart’s hour-long set leaned more on the pop rock metric. Russell’s easy, breezy vocals and acoustic guitar, as well as Thielen’s violin, rooted the music in a folk tradition, but then the rest of the band frequently kicked in to fill the soundscape with a wall of sound. Bright and bouncy, largely paced at mid-tempo rhythms, the set chugged along with few highs or lows. The musical arrangements were very clean, and the solos seemed immaculately calculated and precise, whereby the musicians never saw the opportunity to stretch and improvise. The music might have been more exciting if everything was not so tightly and perfectly aligned.
Kiefer Sutherland/Irving Plaza/June 25, 2019
Kiefer Sutherland was born in London, the son of actors Donald Sutherland and Shirley Douglas. In 1968, he moved with his family moved to Corona, California, and in 1975, he relocated with his mother to Toronto. A professional actor since the nineteen-eighties, he is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Bauer in the television series 24 (2001–2010, 2014), for which he won an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and two Satellite Awards. Currently, he stars as President Tom Kirkman in the Netflix subscription series Designated Survivor. Sutherland was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival. Sutherland is also a singer-songwriter. He released his second album, Reckless & Me, on April 26, 2019.
The audience at Irving Plaza probably came to see a celebrity up close, and not so much to hear familiar songs performed live. Backed by guitarist Austin Vellejo, pianist Phillip Parlapiano, bassist Joseph De La O, and drummer Jessica Calcaterra, Sutherland also played guitar and breezed through a set of mostly original country-lite, blues-rock, and even a few riff-rocking compositions. Singing through a slightly raspy, whiskey-soaked voice, his projection was emotive and his lyrics were engaging. He allowed for intimacy by sharing personal anecdotes about his family and his life that inspired his lyrics. The between-song insights were perhaps his strongest point, as he proved to be a candid storyteller. For instance, he introduced “Saskatchewan” by explaining that he wrote the lyrics while on a plane to Toronto after his mother had another stroke, as he expressed his fear of losing her. This was not Jack Bauer, President Tom Kirkman, or any of the other characters Sutherland has portrayed, this was a non-fiction Kiefer Sutherland, candid and for real. These revealing tales were far more memorable than the songs, which for the most part sounded fairly standard. Thanks to the band, the lively program jumped with a rowdy juke-joint spirit, but Sutherland will need more experience writing and performing before he will be appreciated as more than a celebrity with a guitar.
Jackson Browne/The Beacon Theatre/June 28, 2019
Jackson Browne was born in Heidelberg, Germany, where his father, an American serviceman, was stationed. At age three, Browne and his family moved to his grandfather’s house in Los Angeles. In his teens, Browne began singing folk songs in local venues. After graduating high school in 1966, Browne joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for a few months before moving to New York City, where he became a staff writer for a publishing company before his 18th birthday, and backed Tim Buckley and Nico of the Velvet Underground. In 1967, Browne and Nico were romantically linked as she recorded her debut solo album, Chelsea Girl; Browne wrote and played guitar on several songs (including “These Days”). In 1968, following his breakup with Nico, Browne returned to Los Angeles, where he formed a folk band. Coming to prominence as a solo artist in the nineteen-seventies, Browne transitioned from folkie to rocker with the album Running on Empty (1977). Browne was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007. He has sold more than 18 million albums in the United States. Browne’s 14th and most recent studio album is 2014’s Standing in the Breach.
In recent decades, Browne has been celebrated more for his political activism than for new music, but at the Beacon Theatre, he demonstrated that he is still all about the rocking. Even before he and his band took the stage, the audience could see about 30 guitars lined along the back with guitarist/lap steel player Greg Leisz, guitarist Val McCallum, keyboardist Jeff Young, bassist Bob Glaub, drummer Mauricio Lewak, and vocalists Alethea Mills and Chavonne Stewart, Browne made his statement by immediately launching into “I’m Alive,” followed by the hit song he co-wrote for the Eagles, “Take It Easy.” While touching on all his hit songs, the set largely was a retrospective covering several decades of music, including a new single, “A Human Touch,” a song from the documentary 5B about the first AIDS ward in San Francisco, on which Browne shared vocals with local singer/songwriter Leslie Mendelson. Browne also sang about contemporary issues his own “The Dreamer” and on a cover of Steve Earle’s “City of Immigrants,” both of which described the plight of immigrants facing deportation, and concluded his set with a cover of Little Steven’s “I Am a Patriot.” Browne sang well and gave the band room to groove throughout the set. Towards the end, he enlarged the band by inviting Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, the support act, to join him on vocals on the last few songs. The concert was more than a classic dad-rock event; it was a wake-up call to make the world a better place to live and love.