The last time Mumford and Sons came to Australia, they played smaller venues, and only in three cities – Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Despite their song “Little Lion Man” being everywhere a few years ago, they still only merited the smaller-to-mid-sized venues.
On Monday October 15, 2012, they came back to Adelaide – to play to more than 2,000 people at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre's new, smaller theatre venue. And the place was packed.
Touring this time with Willy Mason and champions of indie-folk, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the little (well, littler than the main arena) theatre was full of indie kids, lovers of acoustic folk, and people who haven't been able to get "Little Lion Man" out of their head for the last three years. There was a lot of excitement, a lot of chatter, and a whole damn lot of people wearing ironic hats – yours truly among them.
The theatre, despite not being much more than a big concrete bunker, was decked out like a village harvest dance, long strings of bare light bulbs strung like bunting front the stage to the back of the room, ready to flick on with a warm amber glow at the right moment. This feeling, this harvest dance or 1920s carnival ambiance, complimented the performers perfectly, each act being masters of this nostalgia-tinged folk-rock style.
The show kicked off – alarmingly promptly; I feel I should have been going to nice timely folk shows with artists such as American singer-songwriter Willy Mason, instead of punk shows for the last six years. Before the show, I'd never really listened to Willy Mason. The first thing that struck me was his voice.
Willy Mason has a great voice. It's gravelly like a Midwestern highway, all southern tinged and nostalgic. It blended well with his jangly, alt-country guitar as he messed around with his effects pedals - “It's all about new toys, here in Australia.” - which lent a laid back, jam-session feel to the whole thing.
This laissez-faire vibe continued with Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros. All ten or so of them filed on stage, dressed like Okies from the '30s and decked out with guitars, accordions, and tambourines. These guys are fun. Really fun. Lead singer Alex Ebert has the charisma of a god-damn cult leader, dancing with his band members, talking to audience members, and threatening us with a free style rap in place of closing with their adorable love song “Home”.
Of course, we did end up getting treated to a really, really great version of "Home", when the band was joined on stage by Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons. Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros put on a damn good show. Alex Ebert is an extremely charismatic front man, their new album is brilliant – danceable, eclectic, with hints of gospel and southern tinged folk. I realised, after the last strains of “Home” had died away, that I would have gone to go see Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros on their own.
And then Mumford and Sons took the stage.
I have been to a lot of good concerts in my time. There was I show I went to in Camden that I'm pretty sure counts as a religious experience. Obviously not all concerts can be that good – that kind of detracts from the 'so good I saw the face of God' thing. But Mumford and Sons? On Monday night, Mumford and Sons took their place in my own personal hall of fame.
Filing onstage under dim blue lights, they started slow, with quite instruments and soft but sure vocals, slowly building up to gorgeous, hushed harmonies. It was a beautiful opening to a beautiful set. Mumford and Sons are energetic, intense, and engaging. Every person in the audience had their eyes glued on the stage, hushed silences falling in between songs. Marcus Mumford even mentioned this, telling the audience that we were freaking him out. But how could we chatter when such amazing music was being played? How could we do anything but stay quiet in anticipation of what was going to happen next?
The most magical point came when the band decided to do an 'experiment'. They shut off all of their tech – all of their amps, microphones, everything – to play a stripped down, totally acoustic version of “Timshel”, a song from their first album. The crowd watched with bated breath for the first few verses, before slowly and quietly joining in towards the end. It felt like a hymn sung in a quiet cathedral, some holy place where every person present had come to pay their respects. I'm using a lot of flowery, exaggerated language, but it was breathtaking. An absolute perfect moment.
The set consisted of most of Mumford and Son's songs, a mixture of things from their first album Sigh No More and their most recent one, Babel. And it was all beautiful. Babel holds up really well next to their older stuff, and songs like “I Will Wait”, “Ghosts That We Knew” and “The Boxer” were fantastic to see live. “Love Of The Light” was particularly great, with the band launching into it with energy and a little bit of latent rage, lights flashing and the music thrumming in my ears.
In a show full of intense music, ambiance, and emotions, “Dust Bowl Dance” managed to be intense verging on actually frightening. The lights flashed red, faster and faster as the song sped up. Marcus Mumford growled into the microphone, sounding increasingly spiteful and impassioned as the song went on. It was then I realised how frightening a folk-rock band made up of guys who spoke like a bunch of posh English school boys could be.
After closing with “The Cave”, from Sigh No More, as their second encore, the crowd filed out, slowly, buzzing with the excitement of having witnessed such a spectacular show. And it was. It was a spectacle. It was wonderful. And my advice is, whenever any of the performers tour here again, buy a ticket. It's worth it.