Monday was one of those days which was terrible for no good reason. (Well, there are reasons, but this blog is about music, not my whiny emo first world problems.) I spent most of the day being irritated at everything, and even through the opening acts of the show, I managed to still be grumpy.
And then Mumford & Sons took the stage.
They opened their show with “Sigh No More”, and suddenly, I was unable to be angry at anything. It was one of those shows which was magical for a hundred different nebulous reasons, many of which are difficult if not impossible for me to put my finger on exactly, but was magical nonetheless.
Mumford & Sons seem to have exploded onto the music scene out of the middle of nowhere. When I put their first full-length album, Sigh No More, on my favorites of 2009 list, the album hadn’t even seen a US release yet and despite tons of rave reviews from bloggers and music sites (pretty much everyone except for Pitchfork), they hadn’t quite hit the mainstream. Now, just a handful of months later, they’re signed to a US label, have sold out almost all of the dates on their current tour, facing American crowds who sing boisterously along with every song, and are making appearances at huge festivals all summer long, including Lollapalooza. I don’t know where all of the attention came from, but I’m thrilled for the band.
Marcus Mumford has one of the more interesting voices in folk music right now. It’s rough and creaky and weary beyond his years, but it fits the band’s brand of folk music — “Americana via London”, to quote Gapers Block’s Dan Morgridge in his review. From the very first song, all the way through their encore of “Whispers in the Dark”, the band wowed the crowd with their intensity, sheer joy of playing, and, yes, even their dry British wit.
I think it was this last piece that made the show even more memorable for me. I’ve been to a long string of shows lately where the music is great and the performance enjoyable, but where the artist just doesn’t seem to make a connection with the audience. Whether it’s a calculated aloofness which may just be part of the act, or just an inability to figure out our peculiar Midwestern sensibilities, I’ve been left a little cold after a lot of shows. Not so with Mumford & Sons; despite their humble and at times bashful stage presence, I really felt like everything “clicked” between the band and audience.
With just one full album to draw from, there weren’t too many surprises on the setlist, although there were two new songs: one called “Nothing is Written”, which is not about writer’s block, unless you want it to be, and another which I’ve seen called “I’ll Be Yours If You’ll Be Mine”, which was one of two songs featuring Marcus on the drums. The other was a rowdy and feedback-drenched rendition of “Dust Bowl Dance”, proving that you shouldn’t assume that a band with a banjo isn’t capable of rocking out. (Also, you shouldn’t assume that a band with a banjo isn’t capable of dropping casual f-bombs into a song; see “Little Lion Man”, one of my favorite songs of, well, ever.)
The strength of the performance is backed up by the strength of the songs, and Sigh No More is a solid debut effort. I believe that their songwriting is collaborative, so I don’t think any one member is responsible for all of the writing, but the lyrics are continually excellent and deep, not just some surface level stuff about love and relationships and angst. There are literary references, religious imagery sprinkled throughout, repeated themes and ideas, and gorgeous strings of words:
- “There is a design, an alignment, a cry of my heart to see the beauty of love as it was made to be.”
- “‘Cause I need freedom now, and I need to know how to live my life as it’s meant to be.”
- “Pestilence has won when you are lost and I am gone and no hope, no hope will overcome.”
- “If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won.”
- “How can you love what it is you have got when you took it all from the weak hands of the poor?”
I mean, damn. Look at that stuff right there. Perhaps its the inner writer/language nerd in me, but there’s something in their lyrics as a whole which kind of takes my breath away. There is an intensity and passion in everything that they do on stage, which comes alongside their impeccable musicianship. Watching them perform, you can tell just how much these four friends love making music. I can only hope that they keep doing it for a long time coming.
Check out my photos on Flickr. Below is a (dark, “creatively shot”) video I took of the fabulously moody “Thistle & Weeds”.