by Zoe Shapiro
What became apparent by the midpoint of Mumford and Sons’ first ever headlining gig in Canada (at Lee’s Palace, Feb. 15th) was that this was a band balancing relative obscurity (in these parts) with some serious budding momentum. Some of the audience could hum and sing along to the tracks off of their as yet unreleased debut “Sigh No More” while others cheered for the lead single ‘Little Lion Man’ and there was a contingent of people who came by word of mouth (including mine) and then beelined to the Merch table to grab a copy before it hits stores (today; Feb 16).
The London foursome of Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovatt and Ted Dwayne are certainly indebted to the UK’s intrinsic folk and rock traditions but their delicate navigation of the space between these two colliding heavyweight genres is totally their own. With some bluegrass banjo, Fleet Foxesque harmonies and plenty of heart-swelling lyrics to their credit thrown in.
From heavy strumming on “Little Lion Man” and the thunderous instrumental and soaring vocal of “Awake My Soul”, the guys proved that despite some technical issues on the night, that they can certainly play. The mandolin, electric banjo and a concerto worthy double bass all appeared. And Marcus, Ted and Ben jumped onto the drum-kit throughout the night. The boys harmonized their verbose and syncopated lyrics which are as angtsy and romantic as you could hope for on Feb fifteenth: “Can you lie next to her/and give her your heart/your heart as well as your body/And can you lie next to her/and confess your love/your love as well as your folly/”. The riffing instrumentation, complete with building cymbals and piano, that launched into “Dustbowl Dance” shocked the audience into silence and the strum of the guitar, the sprinting banjo and smoky vocals on “The Cave” left goose-bumps. Their encore featured an unplugged and partially-acapella ballad that again, hushed the rowdy crowd completely and they also went full throttle from rousing ceilidh-recalling beats to a discordant instrument-wailing rock moment.
Mumford and Sons are not yet polished showmen. And I mean that as a compliment: it simultaneously made them incredibly endearing and their musical talents all the more impressive. They took the stage with what seemed to be a mixture of burgeoning swagger and disbelief that they were pulling this off. They filled the gaps for each other, but not without a few dead-air moments. They regaled us with little roadie stories (including the purchase of twin guitars: the one being used tonight is named Mary-Kate) but sometimes got carried away with the crowd’s enthusiasm before getting “back to work” with a larf and launching into another tune. Ultimately, their stage banter was totally charming; unrehearsed and modest and gave the audience the impression that we were here for them as much as they were for us.
I reckon these guys are about to be a big deal. Their first singles charted well back home last autumn and they’re about to return for their first and sold-out tour dates across the UK. While they definitely have a lot of room to establish the band as a stand-alone sound and experiment with various avenues for their inspiration, their lulling and lovely debut performed live provided as enthusiastic and rousing a gig as it does a soothing and poetic down-time soundtrack. This versatility, their cerebral approach to genre and a Canadian following that increased exponentially last night all foretell an interesting and exciting career for the Sons and made this homesick little Brit very pleased to be amongst those who heard Mumford and Sons do their thing at Lee’s.