Sunday 22 October 2017

Pop

mumford & sons

Phoenix Park, Dublin

It's easy to beat up on Mumford & Sons, which is probably why it has become such a popular pursuit. They're extravagantly heartfelt, bumptiously attired and, above all, supremely posh. Cultural sobs seem to dislike them as a matter of principle.

Amid the vitriol, it's curious how little attention is paid to their music. Yes, banjo belters such as 'Little Lion Man' and 'The Cave' are clunky and strident, but when you are playing to 40,000-strong audiences week after week, you really have no other choice but go big.

From the back of a venue as windswept as the Phoenix Park, nobody wants to hear you mumbling through something intimate and raw – or sonically adventurous for that matter. Mumford & Sons will never be a critic's group, but they've gone about their job of being the people's band with good humour and honesty.

Still, doubts linger as they troop on for their largest Irish show ever, looking, in their flat cap and tweeds, like refugees from a Jack Wills discount franchise.

Headlining The O2 before Christmas, the scale of the surroundings appeared to overwhelm the Londoners. In interviews, they bang on about wishing to strike a genuine connection with their public – which sounded like the usual tosh until you saw them on a huge stage, rendered small and awkward by the impersonal vastness.

Second time around they are far more at ease. Opening with a lilting 'Babel', the quartet step breezily through their repertoire – so breezily, in fact, you almost don't notice the lack of variety.

The son of Christian preachers, the truth is that songwriter Marcus Mumford has a limited box of tricks, the set dividing between kick-drum-driven hymnals and spiritual ballads sluiced in mandolins. At any moment you fear he is about to break into a chorus of 'Kumbaya My Lord'.

This results in a curiously uneven experience. When they reach for 'Little Lion Man' and 'I Will Wait', it feels as if the entire field is dancing and singing in unison – you can practically hear the goosebumps popping up.

However, slower tracks such as 'Thistle and Weeds' (penned up the road in Doyle's pub they reveal) seem to soar over the head of the chatting, pint-chugging audience.

They have a great closing trick, though, hauling support acts Ben Howard, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Ham Sandwich up for a jaunty tilt at Steve Earle's 'Galway Girl'. It is a sweet, nakedly sentimental moment – one that sums up why Mumford & Sons are adored and disdained in equal measure.

ed power

Irish Independent

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