Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
umford & Sons turned more than a few heads when it released "Wilder Road" in May. Instead of the more acoustic, Americana-based ethos that the band developed on "Sighs No More" and "Babel," this album rocked.
The reception has been mixed with the change too drastic for some.
So, how does the new material translate for Mumford & Sons in concert? Quite well, thank you.
Good thing because they played 10 of the 12 songs from "Wilder Mind," starting the show with the one-two punch of "Only Love" (where it was too hard to hear lead singer Marcus Mumford at the outset) and "Ditmas." In fact, five of the first seven songs came from "Wilder Mind" with a searing rendition of "The Cave" breaking things up early on.
Mumford remains a full-on vocalist. Intense may too limiting a word to describe Mumford's ownership of a song. It's not as if everyone was full throttle. Even on softer material, his vocals told a lot. That should not be any surprise given the passion in many of the lyrics.
Mainly playing acoustic guitar, Mumford hit the drums on a few songs, relieving the touring drummer of his duties. A backing two-horn and fiddle player often infused a ton of texture to the songs.
Mumford's band mates belied the fact that they are the "& Sons" part. Ben Lovett on piano and keyboards; Winston Marshall on guitar and banjo and Ted Dwane on acoustic and (often) upright bass drove the music almost as much as Mumford did the vocals. They often accompanied Mumford on backing harmonies as well.
Mumford & Sons songs are the type that start off small, but they tend to eventually swell into something far greater. The material may not have necessarily been always anthemic, but there is a seeming roar that was not based on volume alone. Yet, they did not go to the formula well too often either.
With simple staging (the non-Mumfords were on a raised platform) and no backing videos or other tumult to muddy up the songs, the lighting was superb throughout. Thin beams of maroon and white lines of light sometimes shot into the audience. Often, the lighting on the stage added the right accent and enhanced the music, instead of dominating it.
While "The Wilder Mind" songs came off well live, they also were not what separated Mumford & Sons from the pack and catapulted them to the forefront of indie folk/Americana. They rocked just fine, but it was the acoustic/banjo/upright bass interplay that worked wonders.
And with that said, it was a bit of a head scratcher that they left out a bunch of songs such as "Sign No More," "Winter Winds," Roll Away Your Stone" and "I Gave You All." One could argue that they only have so much time in what was a two-hour show to begin with, but a few more of the not so old songs (even if Mumford did refer to "I Will Wait" as a "golden oldie").
But Mumford & Sons seem quite intent on making their statement with the new disc. After all, why else would you sandwich "Little Lion Man," their first and biggest hit, in between "Hot Gates" and the closing "The Wolf" on the encore.
Trying to mix rock and roots didn't seem hard for Mumford & Sons. Yes, the road may be a little wilder musically for them, but the band was knowingly ready for the challenge.
British band The Maccabees, who have a very low profile in the U.S., preceded the headliners with a stint that grew as it went along. The band is pretty much meat and potatoes indie rock with the stand-out songs - "No Kind Words" and "Pelican" - left until the end. Mumford, a champion of the group, joined the group on the "Pelican."