Mumford & Sons delights Charlottesville

The British bluegrass quartet stopped by Charlottesville on their “Delta” tour to spread some friendly vibes at JPJ

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The British bluegrass quartet stopped by Charlottesville on their “Delta” tour to spread some friendly vibes at John Paul Jones Arena. 

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

Everyone has had that experience of being around someone that just lights up a room. It’s really the perfect Seinfeld character. They don’t have that much to say, but everything that comes out of their mouth is timed so perfectly that the wittiness and snark of whatever the heck they’re saying leaves a smile on the listener’s face. It’s like that person who yells out “Free Bird!” after every song the band at Coupe’s plays. It’s horribly played out but always pretty darn funny. 

Marcus Mumford is that guy — just in front of 15,000 people. His familiar jabs and conversations with the audience on Saturday night turned John Paul Jones Arena into a savvy London Pub accompanied by a couple guys with instruments and drinks. Mumford wasted no time in showing the audience how he owned the small rectangular stage, plotted down in the middle of the floor and surrounded by people. Opening with the radio-hit “Guiding Light” while walking back and forth across the stage, Mumford & Sons was able to combine the arena-rock guitar riffs of the tune with fast strumming banjos and a blazing violin to present the homey concert vibe that made them so popular a decade ago. 

Mumford was quick to address the elephant in the room for all Wahoo fans, “We were gonna have the ACC Championship on the screen up here,” Mumford said. “Guess that one didn’t turn out too well for you.” The collective sighs were turned into laughs when Mumford made up for it, saying, “F—k Duke though am I right?” This joyful banter continued all night, primarily carried out by Mumford and keyboardist Ben Lovett, who both seemed honest when expressing their gratitude for being in Charlottesville. Mumford, whose brother apparently lived in Charlottesville for five years, said, “We don’t really care much for college sports in England. But if I had a team it’d be U.Va.” 

As for what people actually paid to see that night, Mumford & Sons’ music was just as expected. Their classic, playful sing-along songs like “Little Lion Man,” “The Cave” and “Lover of the Light,” were mixed with new tracks from their 2018 album “Delta.” The album received variegated criticism as it was their attempt to return to the folk bluegrass that they’d escaped from on “Wilder Mind.” Their newest release unfortunately does not carry the same weight that “Babel” and “Sigh No More” do, and despite the radio success of single “Guiding Light,” doesn’t have the same capacity to entrance arena and festival crowds like the more experimental “Wilder Mind.” Though still good in their own way, new tracks like “Holland Road,” “Beloved” and “Woman,” were bathroom break songs in between the more known tunes. 

Mumford & Sons is one of those bands that you’ll scroll through on Spotify and think, “Wait a minute, I know all these songs.” As the quartet kept running through their discography, it became obvious just how loveable these guys are. Mumford took advantage of the comfortable stage by circling completely around it within the crowd. While playing “Ditmas” about halfway through the show, Mumford ditched the stage completely and sprinted into the bleachers. It was quite a remarkable sight — one that made fans realize what incredible shape he must be in. As he kept going through the rafters of JPJ and up to the upper section of the 300 level, the screens above showed him passing by stranded fans in gallery with no idea what they were missing. Up in the nosebleeds, a spotlight shown down as Mumford jumped on top of seats and sang with folks who got plenty more than they bargained for. 

Rounding out the first half were a few new songs that left the generally older, bearded and flannel wearing concertgoers scratching their heads. When playing through “Delta” in order, “Picture You” goes directly into “Darkness Visible” — the least Mumford song of all. They kept this composition up for their live performance. “Darkness Visible” has a very heady electronic rhythm to it — Mumford used an FX Board and Pedal to jam out to it. There are no lyrics, instead a recording of late novelist William Styron’s depression journal plays. As the lights went out, the band strummed along while a video of Styron hauntingly took over the arena and creeped out a few audience members in the process. 

Coming out for an encore, the band huddled around one microphone to preform and unplugged version of “Timshel” and “Cold Arms.” For once, Mumford asked for complete quiet, an impossible task in a library, let alone a concert house. Utilizing their unique stage production, bright spotlights sunk down from the ceiling and circled around the quartet. The band continued this setup for the most powerful moment of the show, a rendition of the Johnny Cash version of “Hurt.” A combination of low lighting, deep keys, soulful acoustic rhythm and Mumford’s familiar voice fit comfortably with the themes of most Mumford & Son’s songs. It wouldn’t have been complete without their own variation on the song, so Mumford and guitarist Winston Marshall robustly traded off acoustic and electric jams, lights zooming up beneath their feet and friendly pyrotechnics exploding above them. 

There’s no way to describe their show other than friendly. “Awake My Soul” and “I Will Wait” completed the show, both of which speak about the need for companionship and trust, and it seemed that Mumford & Sons needed this too. This has been their most successful tour so far and their first to consistently sell out American arenas. Through this, however, they have moved away from their roots. “Delta” was their attempt to get back to these roots, and though it didn’t completely satisfy nostalgia, the backlash from “Delta”’s release regarding their inconsistencies within their sound should not be trusted simply because their live persona is so experimental. 

And don’t they have a right to be that way? There are no folk bands from the United Kingdom that are on their level — there are hardly any folk bands from the UK in the first place. They’ve proved their ability to do something no one else does, and now they’ve gone beyond what anyone thought they could do. On Saturday night, they played folk, bluegrass, rock 'n' roll, jazz, country and even some electronica. More than anything, they play music that makes its listener feel good — and isn’t that what live shows are all about?

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