Throw your hymnal down. Now...dance on it!
The dynamic quartet that is Mumford & Sons consists not of a man named Mumford and his children, but four early-twenty-somethings called Marcus Mumford, Country (That's right, Country) Winston, Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane. In a performance that left the crowd with the kind of uproar you'd expect from screaming teen girls at a Jonas Brothers concert (minus the screaming teen girls), these West London natives confirmed with a surprising amount of passion and amplification that they indeed spent their formative years baring their musical souls to strangers in dark sweaty rooms. They know how to find the connecting points with their audience and their enthusiasm spreads like bird flu in a poultry farm.
The group is part of a new genre that sprouted across the pond known as "new folk," along with the likes of Noah and the Whale, Johnny Flynn, Jay Jay Pistolet, and Mumford's belle, Laura Marling. With Fleet Foxes harmonies and Arcade Fire confidence, Mumford & Sons gave a memorable performance at their biggest L.A. venue to date.
To start the night, a pack of Australians called The Middle East delivered a set of tranquil tracks of the Mumford & Sons breed. No real complaints here. I did start to sense around me the oh-so-familiar "Alright, they're great and all, but let's see who we came here to see!" I for one had trouble peeling my eyes off of the gushing, blue-eyed heartthrob that is, Jake Gyllenhaal, who enjoyed the show from the balcony.
But after what felt like eons of backstage band prep, Mumford & Sons had no trouble at all bringing my full attention back to the stage (which, believe me, is a difficult feat considering the competition).
They began with the slow but effective opening track to their album of the same title, "Sigh No More." Drenched in the same Christian poetry that seeps into nearly every song on the record (without the Bible-thumping Jesus talk that would normally alienate this indie crowd), it was the perfect song to ease into the show; a warm-up to the set list's snowballing momentum.
The Sons have this staggering ability to bring a song to it's fullest potential, only to transition it back to the soothing, fanciful and devotional vibes with which these oddly American tunes were built upon. Even the song they deemed quiet ("Timshel") contains this trademarked build-up that makes their otherwise folky/bluegrassy/country/hymnal-esque sound so satisfying.
As the night advanced, something became evidently clear. Spotting their interplay and synchronized frenzy, there's no doubt in my mind that first and foremost, these guys are close friends, loving music, having fun. "Country" would frequently break into goofy dance, distracting the other bandmates when he wasn't banjoing. I even caught a couple of them turning to the others with a look that read, "Is this really happening?!"
And where do I even begin with Marcus Mumford?
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The raspy voice, the British accent that leaks through the melodies. Straying away from the slurring tendencies of your Kurt Cobains and Eddie Vedders, he makes enunciation cool again. At one point during the show, he moved to the back and took over the drums, belting along and performing songs I'd never heard with that same vigor and dedication.
They returned to the stage after roaring stomps and cries for an encore and, per special request, played an acoustic impromptu performance of "Winter Winds." Keyboardist Ben Lovett reassured the crowd just how memorable this night had been for them, for many reasons. "To be thousands of miles away from home and have multiple people request that we play a song we never play on tour, is very exciting to us." They concluded with the triumphant "White Blank Page" and the crowd went wild.
So forget the intermingled musical styles. Let's not focus on the savory instrumentation. Hell, don't even listen to the lyrics: those hymnal-borrowed, love sick, angsty rhymings. Just sway, bop, stomp, bob, tap, clap, or whatever it is you do when these Mumfordy tunes reach their mightiest moments. And realize that you love it because they love it with conviction, pure and simple.