Mumford & Sons : Live at M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool

Mumford & Sons have come a long way from their folksy charm and banjo drums, to have almost contentedly done a complete full circle in their career.  Despite the British alt-folk quartet smoothing parts of the rustic, distinguishable folk of their 2009-born first album release to incorporate sharper guitar elements (on 2015’s “Wilder Mind”) and breezy synths (2018’s “Delta”), their most recent gigs emphasise the same intimate, cosy ambience as in their older tracks; only altered with darker lyrics and more haunting melodies. Albeit, even the stories of tragedy and distress that “Delta” brings to Mumford’s breezy lyrical demeanour seem jovial when performed with a confident half-grin. 

On Sunday night, Mumford and Sons played M&S Bank Arena. A close sellout, it was part of the band’s Delta tour; subsequent to the album release, last year. They’ve always played it cleverly in regards to their shows; they haven’t become mechanical vocalists by over-touring, yet don’t disappear for long enough to give fans a reason to think that they’ve utterly retired from giving them the pleasure of such musically intimate experiences. Their latest album is their first release since 2015’s “Wilder Mind”, and sees them replace their rustic roots with a slightly differed approach, featuring dreamy melodies in tracks such as “Woman”, and moody lyrics in “42”. Despite the album receiving a plethora of mixed reviews, their live performance certainly reached well-above the level of live-music mediocrity, albeit it being (beautifully) imperfect.

Upon entering the arena, it was evident that they succeeded in their attempt to emulate the intimacy of gigs in their earlier years, with them opting for an in-the-round stage ending in the centre; perhaps making the most die-hard fans reminiscent of the days where the quartet would play in folk clubs and pubs. One could probably liken the layout to a pirate ship, of some sort; with the delightfully scattered daisies on opposite ends of the rectangular structure creating the implication of two ships colliding. Although not entirely mind-blowing, with the infrequent blasts of neon lights reflecting on the stage and on to the near audience, the production was indeed an aesthetically pleasing one, and the transition from the vivid luminosity to the soft dim of warm shades as they progressed into the acoustic part of the show, was both thoughtful and atmospherically fitting.

Vocalist Marcus Mumford quickly claimed the rectangular, arena-centered stage as his own; striding out and uttering a breathy and semi-obligatory “What’s up, Liverpool?!” – a generic opening line, admittedly, but his later elaborations on his genuine support for our Champion’s League victory compensated for the usually impersonal, vaguely out-of-the-ordinary audience interaction at the beginning of the show. 

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The night commenced with a performance of “Guiding Light”, the first single from “Delta”, which is comparable to their longer-established, trademark folkish sound. The crowd swayed and smiled, mouthing the feel-good track; and although it didn’t act as a much of an effective catalyst for getting the audience to erupt in excitement, it certainly set the jovial, almost nostalgia-inducing vibe for the night, with the lightheartedly romantic lyrics and amped-up chorus.

One thing which I observed right from the beginning of the gig, was the extent of which this band brings people together. The age range was varied; from 17 year old girls, to 50 year old men; and all seemed to be as content as one another. Quiet sways, dreamy lighting and Marcus Mumford showcasing his vocal delivery with a raw force was the predominant undertone for the first few songs, with the exception of “Little Lion Man”. Merely after the first strum of the guitar, the energy immediately shifted and was turned up a notch (or ten), with the crowd breaking out into a lyrical frenzy; bobbing in sync with each other, and reciting the bitter lines in an almost patriotic manner. Ted Dwane’s forcefully plucking of a double bass while Ben Lovett pounded a piano almost elevated the performance of the track.

Midway through the show, during “Ditmas,” barrel-chested Mumford left the stage and half-ran through the stands, momentarily sacrificing his forcefully evocative vocals for more intimate interactions with fans sat in the lower tier section of the arena, and giving lead guitarist Winston Marshall the opportunity to showcase his screeching instrumentals more prominently, as well as Ted Dwane’s upright bass. Mumford performed the majority of the track when he comfortably stalled in the middle of the crowd which flocked to him in awe, with him seeming just as amazed by their response, but nevertheless being successful in his attempt of connecting with fans in a warm-hearted, semi-intimate way.

After his short-lived reach out to the audience, Mumford returned to the stage, immediately claiming his raspily forceful vocals back which had been temporarily given up, in exchange for a breathy sprint across lower tier to reach fans. This came in the form of a fervent version of “The Wolf”, with Marshall’s merciless instrumentals complimenting the force of both the lyrics, and Mumford’s vocals pleasantly.

Following the ferocious performance of “The Wolf”, Mumford and three of his bandmates briefly disappeared, coming into sight again huddled around one microphone, and this time, in a dimly warm haze; providing a slight relief from the previous harshly vivid blue and red strobes, which when they struck, vaguely made you think that you were being attacked with a lightsaber as opposed to attending the show of an alt-folk band who generally do not connote anything associated with Star Wars.

After making themselves comfortable, closely congregated around the single microphone, Mumford amusingly instructed the audience to “shut the fuck up”, in attempt to boost the homely, intimate nature of the acoustic performances. The crowd immediately hushed, as they began to sing a shortened version of “White Blank Page”, and the lively buzz, facilitated by the previous song, died down immediately. After another equally tranquil delivery of “Forever”, they moved swiftly onto the encore. Despite finishing with the banjo-heavy “Delta”, it was their penultimate tune and arguably their most well-known one, “I Will Wait”, which stirred the crowd the most, and sent them home happy. As confetti showered them, and the intensely jovial atmosphere returned, the audience thrashed up and down erratically, enthusiastically belting out the lyrics.

By the end of the concert, it was definitely apparent that there’s been a shift in the band’s dynamic. With one foot in embracing the darker novelty of new tunes such as “42”, and the other in their folky roots (a nod to “Little Lion Man”), they’re playing it smart by maintaining their rustic basis whilst subtly exploring wider elements of such; and providing a thoughtful and intimate means to connect with their crowds when doing so.