Mumford & Sons – Barclays Center – February 12, 2013
Mumford & Sons began to break in the United States with a run of shows during the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon, including a memorably half-full show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. How little we all knew then. A few months later they appeared on our TVs at the Grammy Awards. Last night, in their second grand return to the borough in as many weeks, this time on the heels of their Grammy win for Album of the Year, the four-piece Mumford & Sons, the band that launched a thousand banjos, took the stage at a sold-out Barclays Center. As the curtain whipped away, the band launched into “Babel,” a song that bears at least nominal reference to the moment in Biblical history when man was unified and spoke a common language.
And it was in this temple of unity, the Barclays Center, the big tent of eminent domain and gentrification, microbrewed beers, suspenders and beards, that Mumford opened with a string of songs off their recent Grammy-winning album, Babel. After the band soared through the album’s title track, they moved on to “I Will Wait,” “Winter Winds,” a first-album favorite, and “Below My Feet.” It was equal parts elegy and ebullience as the general-admission floor alternated between silence and carbonated bouncing, and the sections near the rafters produced reverence and reverie. This, of course, marked the brilliance and mainstream appeal of Mumford: to package the unremembered kitsch and nostalgia of folk melodies with explosive, life-affirming moments of musical elevation. The quartet then switched between the collective, quiet appeal of “Timshel” and the unstoppable, “Little Lion Man,” which first launched this band into the hearts and minds of many of these assembled thousands.
The middle of the set was highlighted by “Lover of the Light,” which sounds a great deal like a sustainably raised, NPR-listening Dave Matthews Band song in its latter half, and comprised both elements of the somber and the celebratory—its final banjo line and lyrics transformed into the screaming marching orders. The main set closed with “Whispers in the Dark” and “Dust Bowl Dance,” the former a song with which the band closed their 2009 Music Hall performance. It was then unrecorded: “Something from the next album,” they said that night. But last night, things were in sharper focus, the benefit of time and perspective. “Whispers” was the second track off a hit album, its edict of “live while we’re young” repeated and screamed back from a basketball arena of adoring fans. It was about unity to be sure, a moment of mass collective experience before the band receded into the darkness of stage left and the empire built on a tower of four-part harmonies and emotive evocation. It wasn’t a night about prayer, a common complaint about the band, but it was about rebuilding the temple and speaking in one voice. —Geoff Nelson
Photo courtesy of Joe Papeo | www.irocktheshot.com