Live Review: Mumford & Sons at Mandela Hall – In Defence of Mumford
‘When touring a lot, you always have these moments, where you think you’ll just stop, and the whole band just will stop, and you’ll say ‘Sorry, I’ve just realised… we aren’t very good. We’ll get off the stage now.’ says atypically self-deprecating front-man Marcus Mumford, wiping the sweat from his brow and bashfully flashing the crowd a smile. His humility is soon drowned in a hysterical barrage of cheers; it’s a Saturday night in Belfast and it’s clear the crowd aren’t having any of that ‘modesty’ crap.
It’s been a year since I’ve last seen Mumford & Sons live – in a tent as part of Belfast’s Open House Festival, supporting (Imagine! The mighty Mumford! A support act!) fellow Londoner Laura Marling – and since then, the band has undergone serious changes. They’ve gone from the prestigious underground London folk scene’s indie darlings to Top 40 fodder, their tracks on continuous rotation on radio 1, their name uttered by the behemoth of all things bland, Jo Bloody Whiley – surely the inextricable divide between ‘indie’ and ‘mainstream’. It seemed that Mumford’s crown of folk authenticity had been permanently knocked off by the avaricious clutch of the general public. Could it be possible for them to recreate that elitist I’m-listening-to-a-band-that-you-don’t-know-about tingle exclusive only to the blog-readers, the coffee-drinkers, the taste makers – those who properly care about music?
All signs point to a deafening ‘no’: news gets out that Mumford’s Belfast date has been moved from the comfy credibility of The Spring & Airbrake – which had previously played host to artists such as The Maccabees, Sunset Rubdown, Explosions In The Sky and Handsome Furs – to the Mandela Hall, which is playing host to, err, Hadouken!, You Me At Six and Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip. Enticing! And add that to the fact that tickets sold out within days, and were being touted on ebay for hundreds of pounds, and Mumford are looking less like a cheeky pack of indie chancers who happened to hit the big time, and more like Bono with a banjo.
Having this in mind, I approached the Mandela Hall with a certain amount of apprehension – would I be confronted with the same gaggle of plaid-clothed, bearded vagabonds who attended most of the gigs I went to, or would I be confronted with a faceless crowd of Radio 1 listeners – perhaps a few WAG wannabes, swooshing their expensive highlights and tottering in their designer heels. Or maybe even a crowd of stony-faced businessmen, barking into their blackberries and chattering about the economy, their ties daringly loosened in a brazen attempt at nonchalance. I’ll admit it; I had lost faith something awful. I was sickened by the fact Mumford – my beloved Mumford – now soundtracked the lives of those cartoonish figureheads of monotony I thought I was the antithesis of.
However, as Mumford took to the stage, seemingly endearingly groggy in face of the barrage of flashing lights which greeted them, none of that seemed to matter – all the ridicule, the indier-than-thou jibes, the callous reviews accusing Mumford of embodying some kind of heinous, shop-bought, cellophane-wrapped phony-folk nonsense – all of that silt seemed to melt away. And what was left was the purest of jubilations
Their set opens with the folk tidal wave that is ‘Sigh No More’; Marcus’s deafening roar crash feverishly around your ears and chills you to the bone with his frozen, still-born rage ‘My heart was never pure – and you know me, you know me!’. No matter the crowd’s romantic disposition, every person in the room felt compelled to yell out the lyrics along with him, coarse, burly men clad in plaid crying out lyrics about their ‘alignment to cry’ and ‘loving with my whole heart’ like moustachioed lovers in moody, greyscale French films. It takes a great band to, through the power of their performance, transform the room – from one of easy sociability to one of raw, uncut emotions; declarations of love and admissions of betrayal searing white-hot, feverish and ardent, like lava through the cracks of a volcano. Their callous 2.1 from Pitchfork may denounce them as ‘hollow’, but tonight Mumford’s cup runneth over with the sweetest of joys.
Elsewhere, new track ‘Lover of The Light’ shimmers like ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ era Belle & Sebastian, although souped up and laced in pounding percussion, exultant trumpet and rumbling cello. And an untitled song – which the band introduce as ‘an old country song’ and invite the crowd to ceremonially commence to hoe-down – is presented in such an unassuming manner, in a matter of minutes it relegates any debates about Mumford’s supposed delusions of authenticity redundant. See, Mumford aren’t the folk Coldplay, they aren’t the folk Kings of Leon, nor are they the folk U2 and they certainly aren’t the folk bloody Nickelback – if there is such a thing as (God forbid!) playing in a certain style of music without any overblown, contrived agenda to cunningly dupe your listeners into delusions of your legitimacy, then Mumford have performed it. Yes, music press, it can happen.
Suspensions of public opinion are rarely performed, rarely experienced – the continuous onslaught of the media’s mostly-negative judgements is an evasive force to try and shield against – but on a Saturday night, in the basement of the Student’s Union, Mumford have managed to pull it off. They may be faced with their so-called fallacies in the morning, but in this moment Mumford & Sons are invincible, infallible, infinite. And long may they reign.