Mumford & Sons at Xcel Energy Center, 9/4/13

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Tony Nelson
Mumford & Sons
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Wednesday, September 4, 2013

There's no question that Marcus Mumford and his band of Sons are brilliant. In one way, at least. Finally someone has capitalized on American pop's two most popular niches, twang and EDM.

Unfortunately, this marketable and stadium-ready combination isn't built to highlight spontaneous musicianship. Over a 105-minute set at the Xcel on Wednesday night, there were few moments that veered outside the predictable build from Mumford's earnest solo affectations over acoustic guitar into the full-on, four-on-the-floor bass drum thump-a-thons. The payoff was the same, over and over, and for the paying customers, this overt sameness of the biggest band of the 2010s was celebrated.

See Also: Slideshow: Mumford & Sons at Xcel Energy Center, 9/4/13

Nearly every song was sculpted in the same fashion as the very first one they performed, "Lovers' Eyes" from 2012's Babel. After first half of the song was played in complete darkness, blue lights eventually illuminated Mumford, keyboardist Ben Lovett, banjo player Winston Marshall, and bassist Ted Dwane. They supremely looked their part as a peasant-farmer boy band wardrobed by American Eagle. The song built to its eventual climax with the help of three string players and a three-piece brass section, as well as Marshall banging his whole body into his banjo, and Mumford adding the kick drum heartbeat.
Photo by Tony Nelson
When it was over, the audience's screams were for real. Not sure what else was, however. Much like Brit-rock pantomime act Coldplay, Mumford & Sons sold us many songs that looked like and had the dynamics of something epic. A trio of sepia-toned screens provided a magnifier for their grimaces of emotional turmoil, which grew ever more furrowed as songs from both from 2012's Grammy-winning Babel and Sigh No More of a few years prior increased speed and loudness. Just like witnessing a muscle-rippled Gerard Butler bellowing "This is Sparta!" in 300, the band made it abundantly clear when we should feel, and what we should feel at every turn.

This night of cloying melodrama had already reached the brim by the second song, the barn-burning BPM-pusher "I Will Wait." Over and over, the backing boys cried wolf with their flailing bodies at Mumford's more pensive side, and gave away any amount of dramatic tension the night could've built. Also, by this point, the lighting rigs were already shooting exaggerated, Deadmau5-worthy golden beams into the crowd.
Photo by Tony Nelson

Photo by Reed Fischer
For all of the simulated outpouring from Mumford during songs, he was nearly impenetrable during each lengthy instrument change -- suggesting his acoustic guitars go out of tune muy rápido. Sometimes one of his mates would speak up, but often the stage would just go dark for a spell. "How many of you have never seen our band before?" Mumford eventually asked the sold-out crowd midway through. After a loud ovation, he followed up by asking, "How many of you have seen us before?" Slightly dimmer response. "That's crazy," he said with a smirk. "It's cute there's so many virgins here." Ah, pious titillation.

One of the night's better diversions came when Mumford shifted up to sit behind a full drum kit for "Lover of the Light," which included a timed blue flash from strings of bulbs hanging from the ceiling just as he bellowed the final "light!" "Thistle & Weeds" had the band switch to electric instruments in front of a hot, red set, and there was a tiny spark of life in the foursome. It even scraped a punk quality, or at least My Chemical Romance-style punk.

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