Mumford & Sons at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 8/28/12 (photos and review)By John Moore | August 29th, 2012 | 6 comments
It’s ironic that Mumford and Sons’ forthcoming sophomore full-length is called “Babel,” given how directly the steamrolling British power-folk rockers cut straight through the babble and speak so plainly, and plaintively, to the heart of their flock.
The name is a nod to humble bandleader Marcus Mumford’s fascination with the Book of Genesis. In “The Tower of Babel,” an ornery God punishes his faithful with “the confusion of tongues,” which spread difference, fear, hatred and inevitably war throughout the world. But there was nothing but love, harmony and straight-to-the soul connection between Mumford and his faithful on Tuesday, a two-hour revival-worthy concert at Red Rocks that left his congregation with wide-open arms and wide-open hearts.
For a Brit, Mumford somehow manages to tap into the roots of early Americana more deeply than most American bands. Perhaps it’s the banjo, mandolin and other stringed instruments. Some examples: The signature string of lights that still hangs over Mumford audiences, evoking an old-time tent revival. His evident affinity for quintessentially American novelist John Steinbeck. The black-and-white filter used to give the live feed a yesteryear feel. At only 5 years old, Mumford already seems somehow timeless.
Marcus Mumford may have found new marital bliss with actor Carey Mulligan, but he’s still asking big, lonely, blood-and-guts spiritual questions that reassure listeners that they are never alone. Mumford, the master of crescendo, specializes in anthemic prayers that serve as dramatic invitations to take up arms. But not weapons. More like the kind you clasp with a lover.
The first of two sold-out shows was the band’s first-ever at the famed amphitheater, and the experience seemed to bring those on both sides of the footlights to their knees. And one by one, Mumford, keyboardist Ben Lovett, banjo player Country Winston Marshall and string bass player Ted Dwane took turns marveling at their genuine awe of the place. “They told us it was beautiful here, but we had no idea,” Dwane told the crowd. “… You lucky, lucky people.” Mumford admitted to feeling intimidated walking through the hallways lined with photos of predecessors Emmylou Harris and “the bleeping Beatles!”
For what it’s worth, when the band came through Denver in 2010, I dubbed Mumford and Sons this millennium’s Fab Four. And, for better or worse, the only thing that’s changed is they now number nine with the addition of a fiddler and horn section. But the music certainly hasn’t.
Fans who came to hear saturated radio anthems like “Little Lion Man,” “Roll Away Your Stone,” “Awake My Soul” and “The Cave” got them mostly bookended around an 18-song set that included seven new songs from “Babel” (though, tantalizingly, not that title track). The crowd roared at the irresistible new single “I Will Wait” as if they have heard it before because … well, they pretty much have. The new material doesn’t in any way mark a departure from the group’s distinctive breakthrough debut — and that was greeted Tuesday by an almost palpable sense of relief. It was plain this congregation has not yet come close to tiring of Mumford’s full-lung ruminations on Jesus and blood running weak and rainstorms and ghosts and torn-apart hope and temptation and sin and weakness and pestilence and broken crowns.
There was no cover of Simon & Garfunkle’s “The Boxer,” which has been getting so much radio play of late, but Marcus Mumford made an early, electrifying appearance with one of his opening bands, helping out on Dawes’ Mumford-worthy “When My Time Comes” (“You can stare into the abyss, but it’s always staring right back.”)
Mumford finished their two-hour set with a hootenanny-style rendition of the Beatles’ “A Little Help From My Friends,” joined by members of Dawes and Slow Club — with Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith channeling coverman Joe Cocker’s signature interpretation. By then the stage had swollen to 16, the satiated crowd was in full fervor and the only thing that could make it all better, it seemed, might have been inclusion of a compatible Colorado artist like Nathaniel Rateliff. For that you’ll have to wait for Wednesday … when Rateliff joins Dawes on the Mumford bill.
1. “Lover’s Eyes”*
2. “Little Lion Man”
3. “Roll Away Your Stone”
4. “White Blank Page”
5. “Below My Feet”*
7. “I Will Wait”*
8. “Lover of the Light”*
9. “Thistle and Weed”
10. “Ghosts That We Knew”*
11. “Broken Crown”*
12. “Awake My Soul”
13. “Whispers in the Dark”*
14. “Dust Bowl Dance”
15. “After the Storm”
16. “Winter Winds”
17. “The Cave”
18. “A Little Help From My Friends”
*Songs from the new album, “Babel,” to be released Sept. 24
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a new contributor to Reverb.