Mumford & Sons

support Mystery Jets + Half Moon Run
author TL date 08/04/13 venue Falconer Salen, Copenhagen, DEN

A little while ago, I was reading an article on an American website that made me feel uncool for liking Mumford & Sons. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, it is after all what traditionally happens to a band that gets big as outrageously fast as this British folk-rock ensemble has, harvesting grammys and what not with a mere two albums to their name. And it's not that I don't see that Mumford & Sons are by no means musical or stylistical frontiersmen but, uncoolness be damned, I thought "Babel" was one of the most impactful collections of songs that I heard in 2012, nevermind the fact that track by track, they weren't necessarily all that eloquent or different.

Yet the memory is invoked along with a smirk on my face that I can't quite help, when photographer Rasmus Ejlersen and I show up in Falconer Salen's ever-classy lobby and join a crowd that looks very much like I imagine the college crowd would, if there was such a thing as colleges in Denmark. I think to myself that some of these guests look like they spent more time picking out their outfits than listening to the bands' music, as I position myself between two Swedish girls in Lady Gaga-ish leather jackets and a group of guys that look like either they all agreed to mimic pictures from their grandfathers' youth, or I missed the memo, and suspenders, vests and old caps are all the rage again. Still, when a band sells out a theatre of this size, it's no wonder that there's such an eclectic blend of young folks, and I'm sure somebody somewhere is also sniggering at my purple-cap-and-hoodie combination. Anyway, less blabla about attire, let's talk about music:

See more photos from the show at rasmusejlersen.dk

Half Moon Run

The first band on the bill is Canadian trio Half Moon Run, who come on and start their set without much ado, gradually building their rootsy, bluesy indie with increasing layers of minimalistic elements. Although their between-song banter is scarce, the guys seem to enjoy themselves as they move to the grooves while cranking and squeezing notes out of their instruments. I'm immediately impressed with the quality of the sound, owing to both the band's own tightness and to the fact that the volumes are perfectly adjusted so that the crowd - most of which is predictably apathetic towards a 'mere' support band (sigh, mainstream audiences..) - can talk their talks while people like me can still hear the music clearly above all the chatter.

Half Moon Run eventually brings an extra guitarist on stage and gets a little louder in their progressions, which serves to give the music a nice helping of extra power, but which unfortunately also makes the crowd around me feel that they now need to shout their conversations much louder, sliding the overall experience of the set toward the all too typical category of "this could be rather good if people would just shut up and pay attention". Fortunately I still manage to come away intrigued by the spirited performance, and particularly with the crisp singing of the band's frontman Devon Dunn-Portielje. Enough so in fact, that I'm pretty sure you'll be able to find me when the band headlines its own show in the much more intimate surroundings of Beta already on Saturday.

7

Mystery Jets

After a delightfully short changeover, I sense a bit of awkwardness when the cheers that greet Mystery Jets are loud enough that either the band is way more popular here than I would have ever thought, or else people think that it's already time for Mumford & Sons, yet they don't know how the band looks and hence they can't tell that it's not them coming on stage at the moment. And judging from how quickly they settle down when the band actually starts playing, my money is on the latter. This time however, I don't blame them so much, because the London septet on stage are somewhat handicapped - frontman Blaine Harrison is literally on crutches - and while the mix seems pretty well adjusted, there's something about it that makes it feel like a small sound echoing in a big room, which obviously doesn't make for the sort of immersion you're looking for in a show.

Moreover, Mystery Jets are obviously a band that have come a long way from the synths and pastel coloured suits of "Two Doors Down" to the adopted Americana of their latest album "Radlands", and the Stars And Stripes shirt and general Western-styled attire donned by the band feel a bit like identity-crisis costumes. So while the band gets a bit of clapping going via traditional encouragements, it makes sense that people don't seem entirely impressed. Still, good songs always prevail, and numbers like "Serotonin" and the newer "Radlands" and "Something Purer" shine as numbers that really come into their right in the live setting, and assure that the Mystery Jets set is at least occasionally cool.

Mumford & Sons

By the time Mumford & Sons appear on stage in their full orchestral might, complete with horn section, banjo and upright bass, expectations are clearly primed to find release in the room, and they do so when the band launches straight into "Babel"'s opening title track, with dancing and clapping and singing along instantly breaking out all over the venue. Whatever reservations one might have about the band's artistic merit or the integrity of their growing fanbase, their songs clearly connect with the people here, who willingly surrender their cool to sing along elatedly.

Seemingly intent on pulling no punches, the band continues with hit single "I Will Wait", and follow with spirited performances of the likes of "Below My Feet" and "Holland Road" before coming around to an obvious central climax in "Little Lion Man" and "Lover Of The Light" - arguably the band's greatest hits. Till this point, main man Marcus Mumford has handled both the rhythm and primary melodies of the show, the former by operating a kickdrum next to his mic stand, and the latter coming from his acoustic guitar and his voice. And there are mixed things to say about this. His multi-tasking is of course fairly impressive, and while neither rhythm, chords or vocal melodies are particularly diverse in the band's music, I actually tend to respect singers that write songs they can actually sing, more than the ones that pen notes that they can't consistently deliver. So for that at least, I tip my hat to Mr. Mumford.

However, while I'm not sure if it's Mumford himself that's to blame, the tempo is clearly out of sorts during the crucial "Little Lion Man", most noticeably when the crowd claps it back into shape from sheer memory during its final buildup, only to hear the band drop a few BPM's again for the last round of the chorus. It's a sign of a consistent lack of rhythmical tightness that I'm surprised to find with a band of this size. Granted, there are more musicians to coordinate here than in your average rock trio, but let's get real here: Playing stages as big as Falconer Salen is a privilege, and one that I think obliges a band to sort out relatively simple things like keeping tempo.

Distracted by this, I'm also disappointed to hear a performance of "Lover Of The Light" that feels less magical than the song - which is undeniably quite beautiful in all its naive bravado - really deserves. Instead of an explosion it feels like that one hit that's been overplayed a few times too many. Furthermore, by frontloading the setlist, the band is - in my eyes at least - running out of their best songs. So while I dig the use of the chains of lightbulbs that stretch from the stage out over the audience - like in the music video for "I Will Wait" - and while I dig the subtle performance of "Ghosts That We Knew", I do eventually find myself waiting slightly impatiently for the inevitable rendition of "The Cave" during an encore that everybody has seen coming from miles away. And maybe it's the predictability of it all, or the slightly underwhelming moments leading up to this, but even while the crowd takes its activity to a whole other level of vividness, I still can't help but to have an overall feeling that's plainly a little "meh". So much so that I decide to beat the cloakroom queues while Mumford & Sons invite the support acts on stage for a closing rendition of The Band's "The Weight", leaving the venue feeling like the crowd response eventually turned out to be what carried this show, more so than what the band did with its songs in the live setting.

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