Remember that time I was alllllll into Mumford & Sons?
I sure do. Remembering that phase makes me cringe a little. I had it bad for them, you guys. I knew all their music, sure, but I also watched all their goofy interviews on YouTube and stayed up late watching concert live streams and shed actual tears when they won Album of the Year at the Grammys that one time. I was a RAGING fangirl. It was fun. But yeah. Also a little cringe-y, now that I look back on it.
The fangirlishness came from a place of genuine appreciation for the band and their music, though. I started listening to them shortly after I fell into a period of deep spiritual dryness, when the feelings I had for the spiritual life were gone and I was desperate to feel something to fill that emptiness. Mumford & Sons’ music did that for me. They gave me permission to be scared of what I was going through and they gave me the strength I needed to push through. Even though I wound up more or less abandoning my practice of faith shortly after finding the band, and even though I often regret the way I handled that spiritual dryness, and even though I sometimes cringe when I think that I let a band become my messiah during that time, where I am now doesn’t change what the band meant to me at the time. Mumford & Sons might not mean as much to me anymore, but they meant the world to me once, and I have happy memories attached to their music. And I was still waiting for the day I’d get to see them live again.
Fortunately for me, back in January, Mumford & Sons announced three special U.S. shows, to celebrate their 10 years as a band. And one of those shows was in Louisville, Kentucky, just two hours from me. It had been nearly four years since I last saw them, so I of course jumped at the opportunity.
Mumford & Sons have changed a lot since I last saw them live in 2013. They’re playing and selling out indoor arenas. They’ve added a full drumset and a drummer to their concerts, whereas most of their previous material relied only on lead singer Marcus Mumford’s kickdrum during live shows. The band–Mumford, keyboardist Ben Lovett, guitarist/banjoist Winston Marshall, and bassist Ted Dwane–looks and sounds different. They’ve traded their raggedy folk charm for a sleek and brooding style that makes them sound and look like rockstars. Gone are Marshall’s banjo and Dwane’s upright bass and Mumford’s heavy reliance on the acoustic guitar; their latest album swaps the acoustic folk sound for stadium-sized electric guitar riffs, tight indie-rock drum beats, and airy synthesizer work. When I saw them live for the first time, Mumford wore his signature unbuttoned waistcoat, Lovett wore overalls, and Dwane wore red pants. Now they’re dressed in clothing that actually fits and makes them look like a cohesive and slick rock band. It’s different, but it suits them somehow. And though the new look and sound was on proud display in Louisville, they balanced them with plenty of the acoustic-and-banjo hits that won over so many fans.
A few highlights from the show!
- They opened with a new song apparently called “Blind Leading the Blind” and played another (untitled) new song later in the set! It appears that they’re going to keep following the direction they started forging with Wilder Mind. The second new song that they played (Marcus said it was only the second time they had ever played it!) sounded reminiscent of their opener, minimalistic pop artist Kevin Garrett. I’m so curious about what their next studio effort will sound like.
- After the new opening track they kicked things off with their first big hit, “Little Lion Man.” Perfect start.
- After performing the first track from Wilder Mind, “Tompkins Square Park,” they launched right into the next track on the album, “Believe.” The audience started waving their lit-up phones in the air, and I even saw some people with lighters. So old-school rock concert.
- I saw some serious head-banging going on at the barricade during the newer songs, and the band seemed just as comfortable with electric guitars as they were with banjos and acoustic instruments. It was so fun to see them let lose. They’re bloody rock stars!
- During “Ditmas,” from their latest album, Marcus ran around the edge of the general admission floor and up into parts of the audience in the first level of seats. Unexpected and fun.
- Among their fans, the band’s intense, high-energy performances of “Dust Bowl Dance” have become famous. This time they literally set parts of their stage backdrop on fire during the instrumental near the end. So cool.
One of my strongest memories of my 2012/2013 Mumford & Sons concerts was the joy and excitement I felt and expressed at their shows. Whether in the pit 10 feet from the band or up in the stands where most of the audience around me was standing still, I danced and screamed and clapped and head-banged like the hardcore fan that I was. A few years have passed since that phase, but the Louisville show wound up bringing back a lot of those memories and creating that same joy. All of their songs did that–the older banjo jams that I loved then, and the newer electric anthems that I’ve grown to love now. The rest of the audience seemed to respond the same way; their new tunes received the same approving roar from the crowd as their old ones. It felt like a homecoming, being able to celebrate the 10-year career of a band that I’ve been following for over half of that decade. No gimmicks. No secret songs or covers. Just the songs that they, and their fans, love.
And it was something special.