What a show.
Mumford and Sons need no introduction. They brought the banjo into modern pop-rock, and cemented their place on the charts with good harmonies, writing, and lyrics. And we’ve all been told excitedly by a teenage girl at a party how the band members can each play all the instruments, ever. We all recognize the opening riff to The Cave, and will automatically sing along to Little Lion Man, albeit without quite hitting all the notes and harmonies.
So it should have come as no surprise to The Gentleman of The Road, the production company started by the band members, that the tickets for the South African leg of their tour sold out in seconds, flat. I was lucky enough to get tickets to the second Pretoria performance, which was also the last performance in South Africa for this tour.
The opening acts were mostly local: The Brother Moves On, John Wizards, The Very Best, and Beatenberg. Unfortunately, I missed them all, due to queues into the parking area, at the ladies’, and at the food stalls. However, this was not a big deal, as I’ll explain in a bit.
Mumford and Sons took to the stage just after nine, to thunderous applause. The crowd was a little restless, though. The first two or three songs felt hurried, and the members of the band seemed tired — likely a symptom of a tour that grew arms and legs while they were planning it. In spite of the perceived lack of energy, Marcus Mumford’s voice brought out goosebumps several times, and the Sons played as tightly as only bands that know each other this intimately can.
But then something magical happened. Something that will never happen when you listen to a record, and that you will never feel with a live concert DVD.
When Mumford led the band into Awake My Soul the harmonies grew tighter. The gentleman of the road all made eye contact with each other, and smiled. They were experiencing and soaking up the moment, enjoying the art of making music with friends, and sharing that with around twenty thousand people.
They were enjoying themselves.
The enjoyment that Mumford and Sons exhibit on stage is absolutely contagious, and their performance is all the better for it. These are musicians at the absolute top of their game, in all aspects of the night. The crowd is easily mesmerized as the band members effortlessly swap instruments and styles between each song, and with the spotlight resting on each band member as they show the reason they won that Grammy. Mumford keeps hitting every note perfectly while beating his guitar strings violently, pushing his way through the throng of people, and even gets the crowd laughing with him, when their quiet, semi-a cappella encore is interrupted by a girlish squeal. (Which Mumford quickly ascertained to be a dude, Peter.)
Mumford and Sons’ wondrous appeal does not come from performing a perfect carbon copy of their albums, or from getting a crowd worked up, or from an out-of-the-world, over-the-top stage production. The magic of their music and captivating performance comes from the enjoyment that they so clearly get from performing together, making music for people, and learning about the music of others, which brings me to the final section of the show.
While roadies were scurrying about after the first encore song (which Peter helped with), Marcus Mumford had a quick word about how much they had enjoyed South Africa and her people. This prompted the band to invite the opening acts and a Sengalese artist, Baaba Maal, on stage with them to perform a song they had all written together the Friday night before. (“We fucked it up horribly last night,” he said. “If we do again, we’ll just start the song over! That’s live music for you!” They didn’t need to start over.) Finally, they played one of Baaba Maal‘s own songs, playing the role of backing band to a tee; like hardened session musicians.
The night ended with the four Gentleman of the Road – Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, and Ted Dwane – on stage together again, to enjoy their music and hypnotize the crowd with their magic spell a final time, and to make them dance.
To say that Mumford and Sons are a must see is an understatement.
What a show.