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Mumford and Sons - most fun gig ever?

Providence Performing Arts Center, Providence, R.I., August 7, 2012

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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During the encore of Mumford and Sons first-time ever gig in Rhode Island, keyboardist Ben Lovett asked banjo man Country Winston Marshall for permission to out his comments as they left the stage. With some prodding to get the okay, Lovett quoted Marshall as saying, "This was the most fun gig I've ever had."

Marshall was sheepish after that, but he needn't have been. Whether it was the best ever of the British quartet that fits somewhere between folk, rock and Americana is only perhaps known by them, but for the sold-out crowd in a gorgeous theatre setting, it would have been easy to assume Marshall was on the mark.

Mumford and Sons continue doing things their way when it comes to touring. Despite the great success of their excellent debut "Sigh No More," they did not overtour. In fact, they have done different types of gigs, including a railroad car tour last year in a quick tour of the U.S. With a new disc, "Babel," out in late September, Mumford and Sons are back on the road.

Not only are they not afraid to take chances with touring, but also with the concert. They started with a new song, Lover's Eyes and the keyboards of Lovett setting a mood for awhile with the band on a pretty much dark stage. Risky move, but after a few minutes, the band kicked in with its high-energy efforts and Marcus Mumford lending his vocal skills. A backing horn trio and a fiddler also spiced the song.

Most bands would tend to backend a show with the hits, but Mumford and Sons trotted out Little Lion Man, their first big hit. The song was pretty faithful to the recorded version, but, of course, doing it live gave the song an added energy boost.

It wasn't, of course, as if Mumford and Sons (the other son is Ted Dwane on upright and electric bass even drums on one song) got the hit out of the way and played the other songs. Maybe it was the confidence the band has in their material and abilitiy to bring it live whether fans were particularly familiar or not (of course, in this day and age of YouTube, there's not a lot out there that is a surprise for the hard core fans).

The new songs - they played half of the dozen songs on "Babel" - were up to snuff and not all that different from the material on "Sigh No More. Perhaps there was a bit of a harder, more rocking edge to the songs, but they also could percolate softly before the band kicked in and Mumford's vocals took over. The new songs were not a radical departure for the band.

Mumford remains one extremely strong, elastic singer. His voice can easily fill a room, and he breathes a tremendous amount of emotion into a song while also often starting off soft strumming his acoustic guitar. That was about the M.O. for the 100-minute show.

The band mixed it up musically with Mumford playing drums on a few songs, and instruments traded around.

Perhaps the most gorgeous moment of the night was when the quartet abandoned mics and instruments to come to the front of the stage for a lovely a capella version of Timshel. (The song from the show is on YouTube) There were a few yahoos in the crowd that just couldn't control themselves by shouting for fame in a most tender moment, but this was yet one more example of a band doing things differently (and successfully).

Mumford and Sons remains a band concept, not Mumford and backing band. That was evident in the stage banter because Lovett took a good chunk of it with Marshall and Dwane also talking with the supportive, enthusiastic crowd.

Mumford, Lovett, Dwane and Marshall needn't be shy about anything. About the only problem with gigs like this, is that they set a very high standard for themselves.

California band Dawes preceded the headliners with a strong set. Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith puts the songs across well, although he is not a captivating singer. Dawes is likable musically with a sound merging Americana and rock. The keyboards of Tay Strathairn particularly gave the songs more meat.

During the very fine closing of When My Time Comes, Marcus Mumford and John McCauley, lead singer of Deer Tick, were on hand to sing a chunk of the anthemic song. Great closing.