Grammy-winning English indie folk-rockers play the Barclay and Rock NYC’s Iman Lababedi brings us his review
By Iman Lababedi
The difference between American Folk and English folk is that American folks roots are in the dustbowls of the Great depression and are political and rural in nature, and English folks comes from the 15th Century when Minstrels wandered the country playing on mandolins for the landed Gentry. So you need to compare Mumford And Sons to forebearers like Fairport Convention and not Peter, Paul And Mary. And while Mumford And Sons could survive a comparison to the latter, they certainly can’t to the former. They come across like the Pat Boone of English Folk.
And if that is too extreme, let’s try it this way and compare them to the equally huge contemporary English band, Coldplay. Alright here we go, Marcus Mumford dated the single greatest figure in modern English folk, Laura Marling, and Chris Martin married the mediocre in the extreme American actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
So to sum up: Mumford And Sons? Not as good as Fairport Convention by any stretch of the lexicon, but a damn lot better than Coldplay.
On Tuesday night at Barclay Center, the boys were tired and sick after a weekend of gallivanting in Los Angeles that culminated in Babel winning the Grammy for Album of The Year. but you could have fooled me. Although I left early (not my fault, they went on an ungovernable 945pm -proving me right about set times), the 13 songs I heard were brilliantly paced, to the point where the band huddled together, dumped “Hopeless Wanderer” to step up the pace and get to “Little Lion Man Faster”. In a band easy to imagine being very very boring, they never settled into a mid set lull, they never rested. After mentioning they were tired, Mumford lead his band into a full throttle attack that didn’t relent for the next two songs.
I am not much of a fan of the band, but I was very impressed with the unwieldy ten piece set up and the way they shared the stage even if the lead singer is the focal point. They switched instruments and shared the spotlight and perhaps after all these years at it, they let the set flow with both stamina and effortlessness.
I know the complaints about M&S and I don’t really disagree, this is watered down folk, it doesn’t take enough risks, the songs are, with exceptions, not that great and Laura marling can write them under the table with ease. But give credit where credit is due, they followed up a fluke hit album with one that was poppier, “I Will Wait” is nothing if not a pop song, with songs that sound just as committed.
Also, as a public school boy myself, the difference between Marcus and Chris is the difference between a head boy and a wet. The Mumford’s can’t help exuding a weird integrity and coolness. They really go their own way.
The set itself was a major singalong, two girls on one side of me, and a couple on a date on the other side, wouldn’t shut up for a second and while some of the songs, “Thistle And Weeds” for instance were saved by a rollicking “Roll Away Your Stone”. And the band are major musicals, they play boatloads of instruments, violins and stand up bass are as read, but organ and mandolins are both par for the course.
There was an easy going feel to the set, nothing felt forced and nothing felt unimportant, for all my doubts about their songs, they sold them very very well.
(Iman Lababedi is editor-at-large for Rock NYC. For more great live reviews and extensive coverage of the music scene in the Big Apple and beyond, visit Rock NYC Live and Recorded.)