sun 14/07/2024

Mumford & Sons, Shepherds Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Mumford & Sons, Shepherds Bush Empire

Mumford & Sons, Shepherds Bush Empire

Barnstorming their way to greatness?

Mumford and Sons: Enormodome bound?

I had been trying to secure a ticket for Mumford & Sons’ sold-out-yonks-ago tour for most of last week. Ten minutes before they were due to go onstage for their final gig, I'd given up hope. It was a case of go home and console myself with YouTube tribute band Sonford & Mums or succumb to the touts, and who wants to give them money? Luckily a kind-hearted Samaritan with a spare pass took pity on me.

Which was a huge relief, even if from my late-arrival vantage point the band was so obscured by the packed crowd that Lady Gaga might have been on banjo for all I could see.

Yet better the modest Empire now than an anonymous enormodome next year. Because enormodomes seems to be where this quartet of well-mannered, London-based nouveau folkies is bound. As impeccably polite Marcus Mumford explained gratefully between songs, 18 months ago they were playing for fun at a friend's wedding party in a barn. Now the songwriting frontman, plus Country Winston, Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane, are barnstorming their way to greatness. Their rise has been so meteoric it is a surprise that they aren't suffering from the bends.

It is clear early on what makes them so appealing, apart from youthful good looks and, judging by occasional glimpses, a nice line in waistcoats. Despite the fact that they are part of the latest of umpteen folk revivals and are a little fey in the studio, in a live context they sprout bulging musical muscles. Bluegrass and country-tinged numbers build from a wistful start to thudding climaxes, with guitars and banjos thrashed to within an inch of their lives on tracks such as the instantly engaging recent single “The Cave”. At times, it is as if they have taken the quiet/loud, slow/fast rock template of Nirvana/Pixies and applied it to the beardy back catalogue of Fairport Convention.

There are further intriguing reference points. They are not as busily eclectic as Arcade Fire, but they share the Canadian collective’s live fluidity, shuttling between a cappella vocal harmonies, waltzes and full-on riffing. They also share a producer – Markus Dravs, who shaped Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, guided Mumford & Sons on their 2009 debut, Sigh No More. Also like Arcade Fire, there is something studious about Mumford & Sons. One cannot help thinking they are more likely to tidy up their hotel rooms than trash them.

An indication of the band's confidence was that despite having only released Sigh No More late last year they are already roadtesting recent compositions rather than merely milking their modest back catalogue. And the new material was impressive indeed. "Lover of the Light", with its brash Van Morrison-ish soulful brass backing, suggested that the outfit is much more than just an upmarket hoedown combo. It demonstrated their instrumental versatility too, with Marcus Mumford taking over on drums - not that he is new to rhythm sections, having previously pounded skins for Laura Marling.

As for other highlights, the melancholy poetry of their lyrics was as infectious as the music. "Winter Wind" is rather proud of its neatly alliterative opening ("As the winter winds litter London with lonely hearts") while "Little Lion Man", with its lovelorn sweary chorus ("I really fucked it up this time, didn't I, my dear?") had the euphoric audience punching the air and singing along en masse. By the end of the night, the band that sounds like a firm of undertakers could have raised the dead. The wedding party circuit’s loss is clearly Ticketmaster’s gain.

Watch "Little Lion Man":

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