Mumford & Sons, SECC, Glasgow | New music reviews, news & interviews
Mumford & Sons, SECC, Glasgow
Few surprises from the folk superstars, but there's no denying the power of those communal choruses
Over the last couple of months Mumford & Sons have quietly become the biggest band in the world. If there was a coronation it came at some point between the headline-making second album, Babel, and this sell-out first arena tour. When the announcement came earlier this week that the folky foursome are to headline next year’s 20th anniversary T in the Park festival, I seemed to be the only one who was surprised.
Given the context, it was probably fair to consider the band’s SECC show as something of a dummy run for Scotland’s biggest stage. With their soaring melodies and heartfelt choruses Mumford & Sons are the latest in a long line of bands which, when presented with just the right combination of sunshine, friends and alcohol, have that semi-transformative, magical festival moment in the bag. While there was little chance of sunshine in an indoor arena on a freezing December night the band played to their strengths, with sing-along choruses and a gorgeous lighting rig in the sort of yellows and oranges reminiscent of sky lanterns on a summer night.
A passionate crowd singing along to every word which made even the most anodyne couplet seem meaningful
A reliance on the same songwriting conventions leads to a certain well-worn familiarity about many of the songs. As with “Little Lion Man”, the jangly bluegrass stormer that seemed like a breath of fresh air when the band released it as their debut single in 2009, their songs began earnestly, subtly, before enthusiastic banjo and thunderclap drums staked their claim over front man Marcus Mumford’s pleading vocals. At times they were joined by an additional string section and horns - or, as on “Awake My Soul” towards the end of the set, by their Californian tour support Dawes - to make sure that those choruses were suitably anthemic. “Below My Feet” proved, however, that the four piece made a pretty decent noise on their own, combined with a passionate crowd singing along to every word which made even the most anodyne couplet seem meaningful in the moment
The formulaic nature of the songs made for relatively few memorable highlights. But then, don’t the best festival experiences fade with the Monday morning hangover, as the tent is slowly dismantled for the long, dirty bus journey home? The truth is that Mumford & Sons are so good at capturing moments of generic euphoria that everything else seemed a little dull. Mumford’s plaintive earnestness on “White Blank Page”, enacted against a backdrop of blue light, might have been too much to bear on its own, but by the time the first chorus hit you could imagine the song forming the centrepiece to a wedding or two. By way of contrast “Thistle and Weeds” showcased red lighting on a darkened stage to hammer home its role as the set’s down-tempo section.
For those screaming for another anthem, strangely it was “Little Lion Man” that proved the night’s biggest let-down. Despite a sky ablaze with fairy lights, slowed-down verses and a crowd just out of tempo left the song’s big chorus feeling a little empty. Somewhere in Mumford & Sons’ repertoire, however, the anthem of next summer is waiting to replace it.
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