Mumford & Sons at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 9/17/2013
It's hard to think of a band that's been so heavily vilified over such a short period of time as Mumford & Sons. Even perennial doormats like Nickelback and Coldplay were given a pass for an album or two, but almost from the moment the Sons' debut album, Sigh No More was released, they've been slagged by fellow musicians (Mark E. Smith of the Fall compared them to Ernst & Young) as well as critics and the general population.
Their crimes? Adopting a faux working-class stance (all four are apparently from well-to-do families), appropriating the trappings of folk music with little attention to the craft, inspiring bands like the Lumineers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and a host of others that say "Hey!" a lot in their songs, and -- perhaps most egregiously -- not paying their dues.
I don't care about most of that (I do hate the Lumineers, however). None of this should matter if the band can bring it live. Mocking their upbringings or earnestness or choice of attire is well and good, but can be easily refuted by a bravura performance. Unfortunately, I'm not prepared to make that case, because from where I was standing one significant member of the band didn't have his head fully in the game last night.
I'm looking at you, Marcus Mumford.
First off, Mumford has a lot of sons. The core consists of MM on guitar and mandolin (and occasionally drums), Winston Marshall on banjo and guitar, Ted Dwane on bass, and Ben Lovett on keyboards and accordion. But for about a third of the set, they were also backed by a horn and string section. They opened with "Lovers' Eyes" from the group's second album (Babel, which won Album of the Year at the 2013 Grammys ... more fuel for the haters), then launched into "I Will Wait." Bit of a surprise move there, seeing as how it's their biggest single to date.
Or so I thought, but it turns out M&S mix their hits in with lesser-known tracks as a matter of course. "White Blank Page," for example, was the fifth cut, followed two songs later by "Little Lion Man." I'll give them this: there aren't many times in your life you'll get to hear 16,500 people singing, "I really fucked it up this time" at the top of their lungs.
Mumford reminded us this was the group's "first fucking show in Houston." To recap, last night's gig was originally supposed to take place back in June, but had to be rescheduled due to emergency surgery for a blood clot on the surface of Dwane's brain. They apologized -- by my count -- twice for the postponement, which struck me as desperately British: "I say, terribly sorry my near-fatal malady caused a hiccup in your holiday plans, wot wot."
Up to Tuesday night, I'd only listened to the odd M&S song here and there, but seeing them live really drove some of those aforementioned criticisms home. Every song, it seems, is an earnestly world-weary ode to eternal, rustic love that follows the verse/STRUM/verse format (they're like the anti-Pixies), rising in crescendo with "Aaaaaa"s thrown in for good measure. "Familiar" would be how you'd charitably describe it, and when even your Jumbotrons are sepia-toned, it's hard to argue with the naysayers.
Review continues on the next page.