Alice Mortimer reports on Mumford & Sons’ headline set at Hyde Park’s British Summer Time last Friday
It’s been nine years since Mumford & Sons broke onto (and undoubtedly popularised) the London nu-folk scene, rapidly establishing a strong fan base with their take on rustic-bluegrass, transforming into an explosive musical phenomenon with the release of their debut album, Sigh No More, in 2009.
That record was a roaring success; a collection of roots-inspired folk anthems with chilling harmonies and passionate vocal growls, famed for their growth into climactic crescendos and howling choruses.
But after two successful albums, it was clear that the band saw their folk formula as worth the risk of a creative re-vamp. Mumford & Sons are now a rock band, with a rock album, and this was made clear right from the start of their set in Hyde Park last Friday night.
Opening with ‘Snake Eyes’ from their third and latest album, Wilder Mind, where the tweed-clad clan once stood, now there is a band playing rock, with all the conventional aesthetics.
In black skinny jeans and a black shirt, Marcus Mumford fully embodies the typical frontman, in a Coldplay dynamic which seems to be present for the vast majority of the two-hour set.
‘Snake Eyes’ is not a dramatic opener. Indeed, friends continue their pre-gig swigs and conversations until smash-hit ‘Little Lion Man’ fixates the crowd into a sing-a long frenzy and the band seem as strong in their folk delivery as they’ve always been.
The brilliantly distinctive roar of Mumford’s vocals continue with the lyrically expressive ‘White Blank Page’, but only for excitement to diminish as the band revert back to performing their seemingly less popular material. Even latest favourites ‘Tompkins Square Park’ and ‘Believe’ don’t go down with quite the same enthusiasm as early tracks.
The show doesn’t really seem as though it’s truly started until past midway through with ‘The Cave’.
There no denying that the band demonstrate versatility – Mumford pulls up a stool at a drum kit for several songs – though they may be struggling with an identity crisis.
Wilder Mind tracks are fuelled by Mumford’s bravado, but received with laughter; during ‘Ditmas’ the lead is seen flare in hand among the crowd before partaking in some distinctly amateur crowd-surfing, rolling back to the stage to the sound of cheer and applause. But this is very much irony-filled.
The band’s feisty demeanour continues even into ‘Dust Bowl Dance’; possibly one of the set’s highlights if it didn’t appear so try-hard.
We’re led to feel bad for a band who, once mocked for their clean, over-polished faux-folk style, now have their authenticity as a rock group mocked too; but there is absolutely no doubt to which they are better suited.
This is re-affirmed during the first encore, where the foursome move to a smaller, more central stage for the acoustic ‘Timshel’ and ‘Sister’. Harmonies are utterly pitch-perfect and completely chilling as the band gather round a sole mic. We see a glimpse of what the band first were, and it’s all rather bromantic.
Although their new electrified material seems less rehearsed and at times more raw, the switching between electric and acoustic-folk is like watching the sets of two very different bands – one which the crowd adore and relish with every lyric, and another they enjoy casually over a pint and a chat.
Main image: Mumford & Sons on stage in June – Getty