After shedding their one-hit-wonder tag with a successful sophomore album last year, the Lumineers started out the new year by bringing two hip opening acts with them on their first arena tour, which made only its second stop Thursday at Target Center.
The rootsy, chipper Denver folk-rock trio — best-known for the ubiquitous 2012 hit “Ho Hey” — drew a respectable crowd of 10,000 fans with support from classically tinged Illinois indie-rocker Andrew Bird and buzzing California newcomer Margaret Glaspy. It was a coolly eclectic triple bill that might have passed for one of the stage lineups at the Basilica Block Party or Rock the Garden had it arrived over the summer.
Thursday’s headlining set seemed to pick up where Mumford & Sons left off about three years ago, with the anthemic, crescendoing, bravado-laden Americana roots music the British hitmakers ditched on their last album. It’s all over the Lumineers’ latest record, “Cleopatra,” and made for a charmingly earnest and spirited if poorly paced and oftentimes formulaic live show.
With his long, scruffy reddish-brown hair tucked under a gray bolero hat for most of the show, Lumineers singer/guitarist Wesley Schultz took on a more serious, sometimes melodramatic demeanor on the arena stage. Aside from compelling personal songs, however, it was hard to take him too seriously. At a time when the folk heroes his music is based on would be frothing at the mouth to pipe up with political or at least topical songs, he clammed up.
The Lumineers were all business, and they wasted no time getting down to it. They boldly stacked the first 20 minutes of their 85-minute set with two of their biggest tracks, “Ho Hey” and the title track from the new album, “Cleopatra.” The earlier hit was delivered short and sweet without much fanfare, as if to get it out of the way.
With two auxiliary members rounding out their trio lineup, the group also jumped the gun by moving to a small mid-arena stage for a four-song, stripped-down set just 25 minutes into the show.
“This is a really big room for us, one of the biggest we’ve played,” Schultz said, suggesting the small stage would replicate their house-party gigs of old. It sort of worked, too. The crowd turned hushed and attentive when he played a song dedicated to an uncle who died in the Vietnam War, “Charlie Boy.” Then by sharp contrast, the crowd sang along boisterously to “Slow It Down.”
Standout moments like those were fewer and farther between in the latter half of the show. Neyla Pekarek’s potent, rich cello work wasn’t enough to keep the drab “Angela” or “In the Light” from dragging. By contrast, the feisty, march-paced “Big Parade” was too spazzy, coming off more like a Raffi song than a meaningful fight song.
At least the other recent radio hit, “Ophelia,” helped liven things up in the end, especially when Schultz ran out into the crowd mid-song. After kicking off the encore with another moving family song, “Long Way” -- which Schultz sang solo -- the band paid homage to Bob Dylan with a cover of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” illy converted to their wistful folk-stomping sound and indicative of the bulk of the concert's lack of bite.
Glaspy and her two-man band — including Twin Cities expat Chris Morrissey on bass — seemed comically small taking up a sliver of the big arena stage in their half-hour opening set, but their sharp, edgy sound filled the arena admirably. The 28-year-old rocker sang with a booming, smoky voice à la Fiona Apple, while her songs like “Ex-Factor” and “Parental Guidance” boasted a snarky but powerful charm.
Given 45 minutes in the middle slot, Bird masterfully whizzed through eight of his most straightforward tunes, including the opener “Capsized” and closer “Fake Palindromes.” The violin-bowing song man did find time to slip in some of his renowned whistling. He also fit in a shout-out to local rockers the Cloak Ox, whose set he caught the prior night at the Turf Club.