What on Earth has happened to Mumford & Sons?

Mumford & Sons – The O2 Arena (16th December 2012)

I know a lot of people really don’t like Mumford & Sons. In fact, it seems that most people who consider themselves musically discerning, i.e. the music snobs of this world, have decided that Marcus Mumford’s nu-folk minstrels are the worst thing to happen to the industry ever.
Now I’ve always found that a bit harsh, especially when things like this exist, but then again I can see how their holier-than-thou, Shakespearean love songs might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Nonetheless, I’ve always enjoyed their début album Sigh No More, and I thought, in spite of popular criticisms about songs sounding samey, that they had created a solid formula which resulted in some excellent music. Sure, most of the tracks might be a combination of acoustic opening, building chorus, silence, acapella harmony, roaring instrumental led by a banjo, all rounded off with a gentle verse, but hey, it’s a successful formula, and it’s hardly as though they were ever claiming to be this generation’s answer to The Rolling Stones.

Mumford & Sons

Their second album, Babel, continued to impress me the exact same way that it’s predecessor had, although I for one found it to be a far more personal album. Perhaps married life has had a muse-style effect on dear Marcus, or perhaps he’s just grown more fond of personal pronouns… Either way, it sounded great, and although I wasn’t looking forward to seeing them in the O2 Arena of all places, I was convinced that in my heart of hearts it would be a highly enjoyable gig.

Well, I don’t think I could have been more wrong.

The opening band, Post War Years, an all-right blend of indie-synthesiser-pop-rock, were preceded by the most bizarre act to ever stand on the stage of the O2; a self-deprecating Londoner dressed in a dragon costume. His name was Piff… Piff The Magic Dragon. Now, whilst most of his act was fairly harmless—but let’s not go so far as to say humorous—I was horrified to see him bring on stage, in front of thousands of noisy punters, Mr. Piffles, his “levitating” Chihuahua. Some people are probably going to scoff and tell me to “lighten up” but please let us not forget that a Chihuahua’s hearing is ten times more sensitive than our own, and I can tell you now that it was fucking noisy in there with all the “oohing” and “aahing,” and in my eyes that’s nothing short of cruelty.

Dawes

Following said Chihuahua debacle, LA folk-rockers Dawes took confidently to the stage. I was really looking forward to seeing them perform and their soulful brand of Americana certainly didn’t disappoint. Drummer Griffin Goldsmith is an absolute powerhouse; his relaxed, Laurel Canyon-influenced backbeats thundering through each song with the tenacity of the late, great Levon Helm. One of the nicest and most memorable moments of my night though, was seeing Marcus Mumford himself to the right side of the stage rocking out like an absolute lunatic to Dawes’ final song, a fitting tribute to an excellent set.

The vast stage of the O2 was now hidden by a huge cloth banner with the Mumford & Sons’ logo emblazoned across it. As the house lights went down, illuminating the four band members behind the screen, the arena was consumed by the screams of hipsters and teenyboppers alike. Suddenly, the curtain dropped and the band roared into life with the title track from the new album. As Babel came to a close though, the realisation came over me that I was, to put it frankly, bored. It felt almost as though I was watching a band simply going through the motions, and I sensed the value in my €40 ticket diminishing rather quickly.

I don’t really know what else to tell you about this gig, I mean, they played almost every song I wanted them to—from White Blank Page to Hopeless Wanderer—and, despite some microphone feedback (Not such a state of the art venue now, eh?) they offered a solid musical performance. What I found though, is that they seemed totally disinterested the whole way through; they didn’t really engage with one another and it all felt very contrived. I do realise that it was their penultimate gig of a long tour, but if you can’t offer 100% of your efforts to your audience each night, well then what’s the point in being there at all? Go home, shorten the tour, whatever, but do not charge me €40 to stand amongst your drunken fans and deliver a robotic, half-hearted show.
I still don't understand.
I shan’t lie, the fact that this gig was at the O2 definitely didn’t help the situation—it’s a venue I detest—but as for all the gigs I saw in 2012, well, I think it may very well have been the worst. I still can’t quite put my finger on what made this gig quite so rubbish; was it their uninspiring performace? Was it the venue? Was it the drunken, chatty, teenage audience? Was it the fact that the visibly shaking Chihuahua was brought back on during the actual set when the sound levels were damaging my hearinglet alone a dogs’? I just don’t know.

However, what I am sure of is that I can’t really rate Mumford & Sons particularly highly any more, or at least not for the moment. This is a band whom I was really rather fond of, and I suppose will continue to love on record, but they certainly weren’t the band I thought they’d be in the live environment. Even now, some time later, I’m still feeling sorely disappointed. I will maintain that they’re a talented bunch of lads, but funnily enough, I’ve been watching Youtube videos of them performing this year, and when compared to say, 2010, they actually seem like a shadow of their former selves. Maybe what you fellas really need right now, Mumfords, is to take a long, relaxing break from the road and each other, and perhaps even take the time to evaluate where you stand on animal exploitation.

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