Mumford & Sons played the first of two sold-out Red Rocks shows last night for an exuberant audience eager to sing along with every word, and the British folk-pop quartet gave them plenty of fodder, treating fans to most of the songs in their slowly expanding repertoire, including tunes from the forthcoming Babel. From the excitement and inexhaustible energy of this crowd, you'd hardly guess this young band has been around barely five years.
See also: - Slide show: Mumford & Sons at Red Rocks - Denver's toughest tickets: Did Mumford, Book of Mormon or GABF make the list? - Review: Mumford & Sons at Fillmore, 6/15/11 - Review: Mumford & Sons at the Ogden, 10/27/2010
Mumford & Sons video for "I'll Wait" (Road to Red Rocks)
Singer/guitarist/mandolinist/drummer Marcus Mumford and his colleagues took the stage just after 9 p.m. with a nearly full moon and slow-moving clouds adding to the introspective, earthy vibe that Mumford & Sons is best known for. The band kicked off its set with "Lover's Eyes," with Marcus singing, backlit by deep blue stage lights and accompanied by what sounded like a barrage of acoustic guitars. Despite the fact that Babel won't be released for another three weeks, a healthy number of people sang along with every word.
That sort of response comes with the territory. Following a tradition of British '60s and '70s folk acts, Mumford & Sons invites mass sing-alongs. They're a pub act writ incredibly large. The big difference is that lyrics like "Your boldness stands alone among the wreck/Now learn from your mother or else spend your days biting your own neck" (from the band's second song of the night, "Little Lion Man") don't have the same flavor as Irish drinking songs about whiskey, women and homesickness.
For the full slide show: Mumford & Sons at Red Rocks.
The night continued like this for the bulk of the band's set: Mumford would pick an instrument (acoustic guitar earlier in the evening and the drumkit later), and the band would join in singing peerless harmonies that would hit damn near everyone listening right in the solar plexus.
Perhaps more impressive than the group's harmonies was the intimacy the group created in such a massive space. Fans standing what seemed a couple miles away in the top rows were just as much a part of this as those in the VIP section. Anyone who's spent time in a ratty college apartment knows the best way to create a vibe like this is with Christmas lights. Mumford & Sons had those, too.
And the hits kept coming. The members, standing four abreast onstage, played "White Blank Page" (from 2009's breakout album Sigh No More) and a new one, "I Will Wait," while the giant screen near the stage showed close-ups of the band playing, rendered tastefully in black-and-white.
The Babel songs continued with Mumford taking a seat behind the drums and playing a full-on, rocking (well, for a folk band anyway) version of "Lover of the Light." The synchronized clapping showed, as if it weren't already obvious, that the new tunes would soon be as beloved as anything off the band's last record. "The Cave" was next, which a friend described as "epic journey music." It's true, though: The song had a definite feel of something to listen to when preparing to slay dragons or embark on a million-mile odyssey.
By this point, Mumford & Sons had accomplished what has long been a tradition in rock concerts, starting off the audience with slower, familiar work, then climaxing with a big arena-style production, and finally letting them down easy with a few quieter, somber tunes. The act finished its last note of the "official" set at 10:30, walking off stage to great fanfare for a few minutes before returning to play an extensive encore. By the time they played "After the Storm," it became obvious, as if it hadn't been the whole evening -- this crowd didn't want these guys to go anywhere.
Personal Bias: Due to the fact that the entire venue was reserved seating (or at least it seemed that way), I was pushed all the way to the back. Even so, Mumford & Sons still looked and sounded great.
Random Note: There was a film crew at the show, plotting out places to shoot for tonight's gig (which also features local boy-done-good Nathaniel Rateliff). The band will be making a concert DVD from this performance.
By the Way: The proximity of the concession stand to the back row at Red Rocks makes everything smell like grilled peppers. There ain't nothing wrong with that.