That tiny show was a big deal for rock stars packing around 18,000 people into Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre at three shows this weekend, when tickets cost around $100 for lawn seats. For an intimate concert, wealthier fans would pay $1,000-plus apiece. Instead, the record-shop show was free.
Twist & Shout often does these kinds of concerts, but until now it's never done one in the round, owner Paul Epstein told Westword earlier this week. Mumford & Sons was one of the biggest acts to play the space, he said, and the band's appearance would go down in the history books for the 31-year-old shop now based on East Colfax Avenue.
To make it happen, staff lugged thousands of records from the vinyl room to make space for a tiny stage. Lines of fans who had secured their spots early in the week snaked around the CD shelves before the show. Some played hooky from work; others had just stumbled out of bed, still nursing hangovers. There were stay-at-home parents who had brought their kids, and a couple of out-of-towners who had chanced on the announcement while on vacation.
We all squeezed in and waited ten minutes, as an exasperated Twist & Shout employee begged people to move into some of the emptier parts of the shop. He failed.
“That guy has the worst job in history,” one fan said.
“Not as bad as whoever moved all those records,” another replied.
But that guy’s job didn’t look half bad when he announced, “We have a band today called Mumford & Sons." He asked the crowd to put up their phones but not take photos: “Just be here and enjoy the show.”
The fans cheered and the band came out, with grins as wide as the Front Range.
“This is a cool place,” said Marcus Mumford, as he and his bandmates picked up their instruments. “We’re going to wake up and play some songs.” He warned us that playing unplugged would be raw. “It might be fairly shit,” he added.
He was wrong. The band played folk as it was meant to be: in a small room, where every crack of the voice can be heard, every scratch of a finger on a string sticks out, every too-heavy breath is unbearable and every rumble of a stomach can sully a song.
Yet the musicians played without flaw, and the crowd listened without flaw. It was rare.
The record shop, which is normally filled with the sounds of obscure punk bands screaming through the speakers, chattering employees and the soft thumps of people sifting through vinyl, was perfectly quiet. Impossibly quiet. Holy quiet.
Band and crowd alike shared a rare space where silence — the most important ingredient in music and the least often heard at big shows — could actually exist. Too often at concerts, the empty space in songs is filled by chattering drunks and people shuffling in and out of a venue. Instead, every person at Twist & Shout seemed to be in a state of deep meditation, the music bonding us all.
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The bandmates didn’t have a crew to trade out their instruments, so they spent time fiddling with the pegs, studying the bouncing lights on their electric tuners, joking about how awkward it was. The reminder that even famous musicians’ instruments slide out of tune was refreshing. and made these radio folk-rock giants seem as human as any of us.
They played for around twenty minutes, covering a handful of songs including “Wild Heart,” “Ditamas” and “After the Storm.” At times — particularly during “The Cave” — many in the crowd held themselves back from singing along. When would the tension break? When would we all erupt into the chorus? It never happened. Instead, the harmonies pressed over fans like a weighted blanket, and a couple of people mouthed along, eyes wet, throats tight.
“We’ve done this a few times around the world, and this is one of the coolest stores where we’ve ever been,” said Ben Lovett. “Where’s Paul? Where's Paul?” he asked, looking for Epstein. When Lovett finally saw the Twist & Shout owner, they waved at each other. “Thank you very much for having us,” he said.
Epstein’s smile was as gentle and warm as the music and the crowd. His Twist & Shout has always been a comforting spot in Denver, a place for depressives to hide out from life’s chaos, a place where others can find solace and sometimes a mirror in music. And even though hundreds of people had packed in this day, with Mumford & Sons playing, the space was more comforting than ever.