Mumford and Sons are one of the most contentious groups that have come around in the last decade. They are the Marmite of the music world, a mere mention of their name incites unbridled happiness or discontent – there seems to be no middle ground for their middle of the road accessible sound.
In some ways they’re victims of their own success, with four albums in the last decade, two of which debuting at number one in the UK and their most recent release, ‘Delta’, scored the band a third successive number one from our colonial cousins in the US.
Along with the chart topping albums, the band have won a litany of awards that altogether has pushed them to a level of success that will always incite scrutiny and criticism for any direction the band go in moving forward.
This has certainly been the case with their latest record, ‘Delta’ – the band by their own admission tried to experiment with their sound but was met with audible groans of a band fixing what may never have been broken, rather than respecting an attempt at trying something new.
Still, even without the plaudits from the latest record, there is 18,000 people crammed into the Manchester Arena hoping to hoedown with their favourite banjo-wielding band, their wait extended due to “technical and logistical challenges” that made the band reschedule with the original date for this gig being back in November of last year.
After waiting for such a long time, fans would be understandably a little underwhelmed as they laid eyes on the setup that greeted them upon entering the arena. The stage had moved from its traditional position at the back of the arena, to the middle of the arena parting the crowd like the Red sea, hardly a revolutionary set up.
The modest reactions continue as the band take the stage with ‘Guiding Light’ – a song that doesn’t really get the crowd going, people stuck to their seats and welcoming with warm applause. It doesn’t take long for the furore to begin though as the band leap into their foot stomping folk anthems, ‘Little Lion Man’ and ‘The Cave’ which has everyone come unglued and heightens the crowd energy in an instant.
The stage does afford the band an opportunity to roam around as they switch and swap instruments throughout the set, with Marcus Mumford jumping on the drums for ‘Lover of the Light’, wandering to each corner of the stage, guitar-less and greeting his audience during new single, ‘Woman’ and roaming off the stage entirely and into the crowd, up the arena steps and dancing on the floor during ‘Ditmas’.
Smartphones are hoisted in the air with their lights shining across the arena to salute a calming rendition of ‘Believe’ and a scattered and frantic lighting show during the rock rollicking ‘The Wolf’ heightens the energy before the band strip it all back completely and hover around one microphone centred in the middle of stage.
“We love your enthusiasm but we’re going to experiment in trying to get 18,000 people to shut the fuck up” Marcus politely instructs the crowd as the librarians of the arena perform a mass shush before a stripped back vocal lead rendition of ‘Wild Heart’ is disturbed by numerous nonsensical shouting, the band should’ve known this gig was happening on a Thursday night in Manchester, of course the crowd were drunk and unable to master the simplest of instructions!
The biggest surprise of the night came in the form of Tom Morello joining the band on stage, Morello is best known for his face melting guitar licks as the lead guitarist in Rage Against the Machine, a band which sits on the complete opposite side of the musical spectrum to Mumford and Sons but hey, their cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ went down an absolute treat.
As the band hit their encore it’s the quintessential Mumford’s song ‘I Will Wait’ that send the crowd into an absolute frenzy before finishing the night with the title track from their latest record, ‘Delta’ – the crowd being showered with confetti because well, if you don’t have confetti canons at an arena show, did you even have an arena show?!
The band’s mass appeal and continued success has made Mumford and Sons an easy target to bring down but you cannot argue with 18,000 people all jumping up and down to the foot stomping folk anthems the band churn out with ease, it’s whether they can continue to succeed while matching their musical ambitions that proves to be the question for this band going forward.