Well, Arkansas certainly tried to kill these pasty boys from the UK. Almost did, matter of fact.
"It’s really fuckin’ hot up here," lamented lead singer Marcus Mumford as he continually wiped himself down with a towel. Granted, he was wearing black jeans and a long sleeve shirt, not your typical attire for a summer evening in Arkansas.
Word is, midway through their set, Mr. Mumford ran behind the drums and lost his lunch.
But the scorching mid-evening heat didn’t stop Mumford & Sons from putting on one helluva show Saturday night at the Wakarusa Festival.
Most people I talked to said it was the best show of the whole festival. I don’t know that I can really disagree…
Despite the sweatiness, Mumford & Sons put on a ridiculously energetic performance and thanked the crowd over and over for their support. Which was ample to say the least, especially considering the fact that the band was debuting a bunch of new songs that they have yet to record. The crowd simply ate it up, though, probably due in large part to the soul and grit that all the members seem to put into each and every song.
Almost every tune has a four part harmony, but not the wussy, falsetto kind. Nope, these boys sing their lungs out more in a bar room sort of way, yelping their harmonies strong and loud. Marcus usually plays the acoustic guitar while his right foot pounds away at a single bass drum set up in the front of the stage. But he also switched over to an electric guitar for a tune, as well as sitting behind the trap set for another.
In fact, one of the most noticeable things about seeing this band live was how often the members switched instruments. The bass player played banjo. The banjo player played slide guitar. The fiddle player played piano. You get the picture.
So, as I said, the band played a bunch of new, unrecorded material in the early part of the set. Particularly interesting was a song called, "Lover of the Light," but others were equally strong.
My prediction is that Mumford & Sons’ next album sells approximately a buttload of albums and these guys become household names.
And why shouldn’t they be? They’re nice, young, personable guys from England, with enough humor to ingratiate themselves to even a redneck Arkansas audience. And they invited everyone to hike down to a little secret waterfall behind the stage after the show, though not without a certain amount of that trademark British self-deprecation.
"One of the things we fear the most is large bodies of water. That, snakes, and nudity," quipped Euro-mulleted banjo player Winston Marshall, who could probably blend in anywhere down south between his hair and a scraggly Appalachian looking beard.
When the band finally got into some of the tracks off their breakthrough album, "Sigh No More," the crowd was eating out of the palm of Mumford & Sons’ collective hand, and Marcus Mumford looked like he was going to die.
But he did not die.
Instead, he led his band nobly with his trademark voice that blends just enough grizzle with just enough innocence. He has one of the more recognizable voices around right now and he makes everything he sings sound honest and true, not cheesy and clichéd like it easily could sound coming out of someone else’s mouth.
"In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die/ Where you invest your love, you invest your life," pleaded Mumford as thousands of music fans held their breath.
I’m guessing that this was the first time seeing this band for most Wakarusa attendees. All I can say is, if you were there, you are one of the lucky ones.
If you weren’t there, don’t miss the next chance to see this band. I don’t say that kind of thing very often so take that for what it’s worth.
The final song of the night was, predictably, "The Cave," the latest hit single off "Sigh No More." As the band exited the stage, the crowd refused to believe it was over. "One more, one more, one more," chanted thousands in unison, for a good five minutes or so.
But Mumford & Sons did not re-emerge. They were spent, sweaty, red in the face, and immeasurably gracious.
I’m going to make sure there’s a next time for me.