Live Review: Gentlemen of the Road ft. Mumford and Sons + more – The Domain, Sydney (14.11.15)

The impending and inclement rain and the mud and the grey skies were no deterrent for the loyal music fans who descended upon the already trampled turf of the Domain. Gentlemen of the Road is part music festival, part band love-in all originated, hosted and curated by the lads from Mumford and Sons. The aim is to bring a lineup of unique local and international music to fans, a diverse mini festival if you will.

Considering the demise of Homebake, it’s been a long while coming for music fans to get a decent festival in the Sydney CBD. Even if this only had six bands on the lineup, it was still a solid seven-ish hours of music.

As with any “festival”, there’s a banned items list, including no outside food or drink and no umbrellas, urging us to bring ponchos instead. Admittedly the space was well used with the several bars, food trucks and stalls skirting the farthest edges of the park grounds. But what little grass and sodden ground remained quickly turned to swamps of mud within a couple of hours. By the end of the night, we were all slowly stomping our way out, trying desperately to not fall over – this must be what Splendour was like earlier this year.

So – what about the music?

Representing the local contingent were Art Of Sleeping, Meg Mac and The Jungle Giants. Art Of Sleeping bring a broody indie rock to the lineup, while Meg Mac has a soulful tinge to her singer songwriter pop. The Jungle Giants are a fun blend of soft rock with some occasional dropped funk beats. Songs like “Kooky Eyes” and “I Am What You Want Me To Be” got the small crowd moving from side to side and the band seem comfortable and self assured in their performance, even though they were gracing a much larger stage.

The Vaccines have been to our shores several times now, and always manage to win hearts. Their music seems to dip in and out of different sounds, “Melody Calling” sounds more like a 50’s pop rock track. While “20/20” and “Dream Lover” off their latest record English Graffiti both focus more on synth based sounds. But their wildly popular “If You Wanna” from their debut record What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? always harkens back to their indie Brit-rock roots and never fails to get the crowd dancing, even when they’re sloshing around in mud.

I was pleased to see a lot of people rise to their feet as soon as Jake Bugg came onstage. The last time he was here he sold out venues and his popularity clearly hasn’t waned. Jake looks deceptively baby-faced so for the uninitiated his voice comes as a complete surprise, tinged with an assertive country twang to his alt-pop-rock-singer-songwriter fare. His songs feel like they’re from the heart of someone much older and wiser but the young Bugg delivers his plucky guitar playing like a pro who has been at it for years particularly on tracks like “Two Fingers” and “Lightning Bolt”. For a young kid up there all on his lonesome he commands the stage, and even his lack of banter didn’t deter the crowd from cheering him on.

Future Islands are an interesting choice on this lineup. Their live performance was a different beast altogether. Frontman Sam Herring stalks and lumbers around the stage like a gorilla with just as many growls to match. But their synth-pop delivery of their hit “Seasons (Waiting On You)” from their latest record Singles or “Tin Man” from In Evening Air were clearly appreciated by the crowd. They probably stood out the most on the lineup purely because their music sounds so different to everybody else on the bill.

Our men of the moment Mumford and Sons finally grace the stage as the darkness envelopes the Domain and kick us off with “Snake Eyes” off their latest record Wilder Mind. It seems almost fitting that during their second song “Little Lion Man” it starts to rain again but despite the wet all I can see is people dancing and singing. Tonight is my first time seeing them live, I’ve repeatedly missed them in the past due to lack of funds or being overseas when they were touring our shores. All I have ever wanted was to experience “Awake My Soul” live and they didn’t disappoint, it was like magic getting to hear it live and I drank in every second of it. For the broody and dark “Thistle And Weeds” the band is bathed in red lights.

Marcus Mumford takes a moment to address the crowd, asking us if we’re having a good time but when one audience member seems to not respond adequately he asks, “Mate you didn’t lift your hand, are you having a shit time?”. They opt to play a “quiet one” next and lead in to “Ghosts That We Knew”, which dovetails straight into the news of the day surrounding the attacks in Paris, with the band dedicating “Believe” to Paris and its people. They keep the mood sombre as Marcus asks us to shut up once more and they strip it right down to a single guitar and a single mic and all the band member’s voices with “Cold Air” and it’s hauntingly beautiful in its simplicity. But they contrast all of this this with blistering renditions of “The Cave” and “Roll Away Your Stone” that once again has punters dancing a jig in the mud.

During “Ditmas”, Marcus leaps down into the pit and runs beside the barrier, high-fiving the crowd, and this time it gives the camera men a chance to focus on the rest of the band on the stage as they continue performing. They round out the main set with an extended intro for “Dust Bowl Dance” and its enormous piano and drums build to the end as a waterfall of fireworks shower down upon the stage. For the encore, we get “Hot Gates” then a fiery “The Wolf”, but it’s when they invite members of The Vaccines, Jungle Giants, and Future Islands to join them for a cover of Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends” that we all felt warm and fuzzy on the inside, even if we were a bit soggy on the outside.

The grey clouds, the rain, the mud, the bad news from Paris, none of these things could dampen the spirit and the rapturous joy the audience was feeling courtesy of the tunes and performance delivered by the lads from Mumford and Sons. For this mini-festival, it almost felt like nothing could bring us down; except maybe having to clean the mud off at the end of the night. But isn’t that how so many great festivals have come to an end?


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Carina Nilma

Office lackey day-job. Journalist for The AU Review night-job. Emotionally invested fangirl.