Mumford and Sons at The Greek Theater, May 30, 2013. Photos by Natalie Nesser, given with permission.
Getting high off the secondhand smoke from the weed passed around by the middle-aged dudes in front of me, I settled in for a relaxing night under the stars at my favorite venue. Going into this concert review blind by intentionally not listening to Mumford and Sons' music beforehand, and maybe it was the weed-induced mellow mood, or quite possibly the English accents, but when lead vocalist, Marcus Mumford said, "Shall we sing a song together Berkeley?" at The Greek Theater in Berkeley, Cali. on May 30, 2013, I fell in love just a little bit. It's been a while since I experienced the wonder of discovery and the innocent, naive conviction that music really could change a person's life, because a band's music reached me on a profound, emotional level.
Like being transported back to my hometown in Alabama, Kentucky bluegrass mated with English working-class and gave folk rock mountain music a sexy accent and an aggressive edge that transcended the eclectic mix of demographics eagerly foot-stomping and clapping to the songs together. With deep, soul-searching lyrics of lost love, obsessive love, regret and joy; and talent and skills that are interchangeable and unwavering, Mumford and Sons proved no matter the genre, when a band has that special "It" factor, fads and trends and market analysis really do become irrelevant, so lost in the emotional pull and the human masses who respond.
"Whispers In The Dark" gave credence to this phenomenon when in the moment at the change-up, the band members were so consumed at once, so lost in their craft, the audience, the stage, the job they set out to do seemed to fade away, and the collective hearts just stopped beating to listen to the regret of "But fingers tap into what you were once/And I'm worried that I blew my only chance." I was mesmerized by the light show during "Thistle & Weeds" as it changed from the urgency of solid red into the sad acceptance of pure white rain as Mumford sang the somber, ominous notes of "But plant your hope with good seeds/Don't cover yourself with thistle and weeds/Rain down, rain down on me." And "Little Lion Man" got the crowd on their feet, clapping and foot-stomping to the raucous beat as Mumford angrily mocked the subject of the song who blames everyone else for his problems, ironically taking responsibility instead. Trying to decide a favorite song, I was torn between the conviction of "The Cave," the longing and frustration of "The Ghosts That We Knew," the plea in "Below My Feet," and the willful blind love of "Lover's Eyes," resonating with all of them equally in my own life as the crowd sang along, seeming to agree with me.
Even as they covered the music of iconic artists who came before them, Mumford and Sons succeeded in making it their own. Teasing the crowd just before the band covered "I'm On Fire" by Bruce Springsteen, Mumford joked "I know you all want to hoot-n-holler, but now is not the time. Shut the fuck up." Gathering in a tight circle, with only a spotlight on the four of them, it was easy to believe this song was one of their originals. Moving from that song straight into their own "Reminder," with only a spotlight and a four-part harmony, the lyrics "And I've been traveling oh so long" and "Oh my love don't fade away," with horns rounded it out to build into a powerhouse that only got stronger.
In every song, this band displayed a joy in the music, as if they're still just four men playing for kicks in the pub back home and not a band on the rise packing out venues. It was this intense immersion that motivated the audience to root for them, and all I could think was "Holy shit. Their talent." Looking down on the sea of people "hootin-n-hollerin" as one as Mumford and Sons finished their set, I couldn't help but smile. It was a standing ovation.