February 28th, 2010
My initial plan in writing this post was to unleash the full extent of my Mumford & Sons knowledge and analysis, word-vomit fashion, upon you all. I had written about half of this already, drawing in numerous sources and far-flung citations of commercial similarities between the Sons and everything from Coldplay to the clothing store Anthropologie, but I am not going to go down that path. Today. This particular folk foursome occupies so much of my thoughts that it’s very conceivable that a large-scale review will appear in the future, but I’m out of energy for an epic tonight.
As such, I’m going to focus on their two crucial American television performances this past week: February 17th’s appearance on David Letterman, and yesterday evening’s on Craig Ferguson (above). Although Marcus is wearing the same shirt for both gigs, I don’t think they actually have much else in common. Both were obviously a big step for the Mumford men in terms of their entrée into the wider US music scene; already huge in Britain, they’re quickly gaining a sizable stateside following. However, I would hazard a guess that the two late night shows have generated different results for my favorite folky Brits.
Letterman is unquestionably the bigger outlet for any music artist. Especially in light of the recent Conan-Leno debacle, The Late Show with David Letterman has reaped the rewards of the 11:35 time slot. Mumford & Sons were especially smart in choosing ‘Little Lion Man’ for this performance—I would consider it the most accessible of all their songs. It gets to the crux of their commercial potential: these songs are catchy, anthemic, energized. In my mind, it is this tendency that separates them from the new-folk niche market, and even sets them against the Pitchfork crowd and many of today’s American folksters. Though they share a penchant for scruffy beards and plaid, the Sons are not really a bunch of Bon Ivers. Playing somewhat on the success of artists like Fleet Foxes, they bring something quaint, familiar, and rustic to the American mainstream in a more accessible way. There’s something interesting for us Yanks about getting our power pop in a slightly foreign form; M&S marry the old (their folkishness and their anthemic song formulas) and the new (something not unlike Coldplay, but in an excitingly fresh, waistcoat-wearing package).
In my mind, the Letterman show should have been for Craig Ferguson. I don’t know if they’re quite at the level of Letterman yet, and for all their increased exposure, I rather doubt the Late Show demographic really coincides with the Mumford & Sons target audience. I did hear from my friend’s mom that she thought they were pretty good, but I don’t think she’s since headed to iTunes to buy the track. Craig Ferguson, on the other hand, is known for being quirky; he features a variety of interesting ‘up-and-coming’ (relatively) artists, even bringing Laura Marling on in 2008. This was a much better fit for M&S, but I still think they made a mistake: ‘The Cave’.
Don’t get me wrong, I love that song. When I found out I was accepted to study abroad in London, it was the first song I played. It’s also my ringtone. But it just doesn’t have the same effect as the rousing appeal of “It was not your fault, but mine/It was your heart on the line/I really (messed) it up this time, didn’t I my dear?”. After getting some feedback on the CF performance, general consensus was: ‘they sound good, but…huh?’. For something like US television, a song needs to be relatable. In sentiment, ‘The Cave’ is absolutely that—but it doesn’t translate as well as ‘Little Lion Man’ or even ‘Winter Winds’, where a chorus of “And my head told my heart, let love grow/But my heart told my head, this time no” is still more immediately inclusive than “But I will hold on hope, and I won’t let you choke/On the noose around your neck/And I’ll find strength in pain, and I will change my ways/I’ll know my name as it’s called again”.
In the end, I do think both performances were successful. I think enough buzz is being generated from all corners to ensure that Mumford & Sons are going to be a familiar name before too long. I still can’t decide, however, whether I’m happy about that or not.