At some point during their meteoric rise in popularity on the back of their 2009 debut album, Mumford & Sons crossed the line from being admired by fans of Americana and folk music (you know, banjos, double basses and rousing choruses) to being derided by critics and hipsters for the crime of being too popular. Granted, their second album, Babel, sounds like a less interesting version of their first, but anyone who fails to understand the popularity of this English quartet need only to witness them performing in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd, like the one at Auckland’s Vector Arena.
This was Mumford & Sons’ first show in New Zealand and both the band and their fans seemed to be chomping at the bit in anticipation. The venue was sold out.
Australian singer-songwriter played a well-received 45 minute set, but the fans were there to see Mumford & Sons.
The four members of the group took the stage at 9:15 along with a 3-piece horn section and fiddle player Ross Holmes. Screams erupted from the crowd before they even sang a note. The place was buzzing. They opened with Lovers’ Eyes, from Babel and played the first portion of the song in darkness. After the chorus the crowd cheered and sang along, the lights came up on stage and the horn section kicked in. The song built up to a crescendo with some fine fiddle playing from Holmes.
Then the extra musicians left the stage, leaving just the four group members. Keyboard player Ben Lovett was on the left, then guitarist and singer Marcus Mumford (who also had a bass drum set up in front of him to keep time), then banjo player Country Winston Marshall and double bass player Ted Dwane to the far right. They counted in Little Lion Man, their breakthrough song from the first album. The crowd went crazy, singing along with arms raised and fists pumping in the air.
Any energy that was missing from the new album was here in spades. The band and the audience were really feeding off each other.
After a few more songs from Sigh No More, Mumford mentioned that they released a new album last month. Again, screams come from the crowd. Then they played Below My Feet and I Will Wait, the first single from Babel. I Will Wait turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. The horns were back in the mix and it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. This is a band that seems to thrive on large venues and big crowds. At times they sounded like a folkier version of U2. They also understand how to use dynamics, raising and lowering the tension and the volume to keep the crowd on the edge. Often songs began just with Mumford’s voice and guitar, but by the end everyone and his mother were singing and playing along.
A dozen songs into the set Mumford announced that they were going to try a song that they “haven’t actually rehearsed at all”. The song was Deep Water by Australian band The Middle East. The Mumfords started it out tentatively, with Marcus leading the rest of the musicians through it. It started out quietly and some of the audience began to get restless. Generally the crowd was patient and appreciative, especially once Marshall launched into his electric guitar solo.
The audience was back into things with Winter Winds from Sigh No More which featured a thrilling trumpet solo.
Marcus Mumford sat behind the drum kit for a few tunes such as Dust Bowl Dance which closed the regular set.
Of course there was an encore. First there was the title track from the first album, with all four band members singing close harmonies…more fist pumping ensued. Then we got the title track from Babel…the crowd reacted from the first notes from Mumford’s guitar. The night ended with a big sing-along to The Cave, horns blaring and more arms waving in the air. It was a big finish for a big show. I left the venue much more impressed than I expected. Maybe I’ll go back and give Babel another listen.
Click here to see a gallery of Michael Flynn’s concert photos from the Auckland show:
Mumford & Sons set list:
- Lovers’ Eyes
- Little Lion Man
- Roll Away Your Stone
- Holland Road
- White Blank Page
- Below My Feet
- I Will Wait
- Lover Of The Light
- Thistle & Weeds
- Ghosts That We Knew
- Deep Water
- Winter Winds
- Awake My Soul
- Dust Bowl Dance
- Sigh No More
- The Cave