Mumford & Sons Return to Brooklyn with Unabashed & Very Welcome Sincerity Intact

February 10, 2013 · Print This Article

Bleeding-heart sincerity is uncomfortable for many people. Makes a weaker person turn away, ashamed for the feeler. Second-hand embarrassment and all that. As if honesty is something to be ashamed of. Be it in a moment of unabashed joy, unimaginable pain or just looking deep into someone’s eyes to deliver an apology or hard-to-swallow truth. It’s easier to turn away and pass judgement instead of attempting to understand. Or respect the torrent of emotion and tribulations involved.

We’re all just trying to be better people, sincerely. Or be better at being people.

I first laid eyes on Mumford & Sons in October 2009 when I was one of the few and first American reporters tasked with covering them during the annual CMJ Music Marathon. Their indie buzz was positive (and not divisive) then, and my friend Fred (who accompanied me to the show) corroborated their cachet with a resounding thumbs-up. It had been an important band for he and a former girlfriend, and he was certain I too would walk away a believer.

The Mumfords shared a packed bill that night at the Blue Flowers showcase at the Music Hall of Williamsburg with hypey also-rans The Temper Trap and Golden Silvers. They opened with eponymous album title cut “Sigh No More” and 10 seconds in, I was in tears. I looked at Fred and said, “this is devastating.” I would go on to opine of the show in my review: “…from first blush and foot stomp to the last joyful harmony, an undeniable, unimaginable victory.” Also tellingly, I said this: “Fans of Damien Rice, the Avett Brothers and BRMC’s ‘Howl’ will freak if they haven’t done so already. My larger hope, of course, is that everyone else will, too. That’s right: Mumford and Sons is your new band to believe in, kids.” “Little Lion Man” and “The Cave” would own millions of brains (including many of my dearest friends) just months later.

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In February of the following year, in the dead of winter, I was confirmed to design and manage my very first photo shoot with the band at a Victorian-themed bar in Union Square. A brilliant photographer friend of mine agreed to take it on, and the bar confirmed they’d allow us use of the back portion of the place for 20 minutes so the guys could have some peace. No rest for the weary gentlemen of the road, unfortunately, and myriad reasons prevented them from making their initially scheduled flight, and thusly the whole production was cancelled on the day of the shoot. The lighting, the mirrors, the antique furniture, it had all lined up perfectly. All it needed were four English blokes who were just starting to know what royalty checks look like. That night, however, the show would go on at the venerable Bowery Ballroom — their first headlining stop in Manhattan — where they played a barnstormer of an album-release party. Gone forever were the days when you could happen upon ruddy-faced Hemingway-esque lead singer Marcus Mumford outside the front door of the venue next to the band’s gear truck, laughing broadly, enjoying a smoke and beer, and high-fiving anyone who dared approach with well-wishes.

To wit, as I reported then: “I’ve watched plenty of bands achieve ‘full flight’ before. That’s what following U2 around the country for years and admiring Fanfarlo during CMJ will earn you. But the fiery, banjo-wielding Mumford & Sons showed the capacity crowd truly something special last night, and the crowd – a foot-stomping, hands-in-the-air, doin’ a jig, hugging your neighbor mass of winter coat-wearing strangers – sang back every word. ‘Awake My Soul’ became less an album track, and more a pathos as the night wore on.”

Much has been derisively said about the Mumfords’ “alt-folk” tent-revival schtick. As if was actually a falsehood. A come-on. A bit of pretend. As if they were trying to insert themselves into a scene they categorically and factually had no part of, like Vanilla Ice in Miami, purporting to be some kind of banger. Just because they were well-educated and London-based and not rural-dwelling sheep herders, clearly this wasn’t an honest band. But see, the discerning music lover is smart enough to sniff the shit from the soap. Watching the other audience members have profound reactions while taking in Marcus and the boys was no lark — this was a band doing something important, much-needed and significant. Sounding and answering their own clarion call with the fury of an army armed with little more than banjos, dobros, elbow grease and a lot of passion and sincerity.

Sure, audience members can be given to spontaneous celebratory noodling and hoedowns at a Mumford show, just as industrial fans have the Pavlovian desire to slam against each other. This isn’t an emotional display to be critical and suspect of; I reserve much judgement for a human being who can side-eye another human being wrapped up in the unbelievable joy that washes over you when a turn of phrase fixes your heart, leading your outstretched arms to signify “FINALLY,” because someone had the big beautiful gall to say it. Whatever IT is for you.

Last night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, I was blessed to witness FINALLY on a grand, arena-sized scale as thousands sang along to “Babel” (“Cause I’ll know my weakness, know my voice/And I believe in grace and choice”), “Thistle and Weeds” (“Plant your hope with good seeds/Don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds”) and “Awake My Soul” (“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die/And where you invest your love, you invest your life”) among other joyfully rowdy tunes such as ” I Will Wait,” “Lover of the Light,” ubiquitous wunderkind hit “Little Lion Man” and “Roll Away Your Stone.”

We’re all just trying to be better people, sincerely. Or be better at being people.

I don’t know about you, but lately, I’m tired of hiding. And since Hurricane Sandy wrecked my life up something fierce in late October 2012 (I remain displaced from my downtown Manhattan apartment as I write this), I’ve had no choice but to be alternately sincerely troubled and sincerely hopeful, with sometimes disastrous results the last four months. While looking out at the thousands with arms outstretched in their own private Idahos of FINALLY last night, I closed my eyes, sat still as a rock, and just listened to the newly impassioned soulful voices around me. Everyone has their own Sandy.

Excavation is exhausting, but one of the most necessary tasks we have inherited in this mortal coil. How else can you get to the heart of any matter or complication if your knee-jerk reaction is to turn away from the mud that comes with an uncomfortable truth? This is the question that Mumford & Sons seek to answer, sincerely. –Carrie Alison

Carrie Alison is a former editor, music journalist and publicist. She lives in New York City.

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