Last week I realized: I’m addicted to British music. I already knew I had a raging case of Anglophilia, and an abnormal obsession with English new-folk, but Wednesday’s epic Mumford & Sons-headlining show wasn’t just a concert–it was a fix.
I knew I’d crossed into the realm of addiction as soon as the lights dimmed and King Charles took the stage of San Francisco’s Warfield Theater. It had been almost a year since I’d last seen my favorite royal, and the sight of him in his Beau Brummell-inspired outfit did not disappoint. Charles began with an a cappella version of “The Brightest Lights”, and continued with a gentler rendition of single “Love Lust”. Although the short solo set differed from his typically boisterous performances, it set the tone for the softer delivery on his new EP, which is set to be released on US iTunes sometime this week. The definite highlight was clever crowd-pleaser “Ivory Road” (seen here in a fantastic Black Cab Session)–a girl near me described its articulate wit as simply ‘Shakespearean’. King Charles’s performance was exciting in a way I hadn’t expected; though I miss the rocking and rolling, the crazed dancing, and the sheer spectacle of his wilder works, this more sensitive side proves that Charles is a talent in all arenas.
The next band, alt-country group Mt. Desolation, has already been getting some buzz–including a placement as Amazon’s Deal of the Day for the eponymous album’s October 19th release, and a random shout-out from Us Magazine. The band is the new brainchild of Keane members Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin (also of Jesse Quin and the Mets), and the album itself features a smorgasbord of musical guests, including members of the Killers, Mumford & Sons, and Noah and the Whale. My immediate impression as the band began was not of sound but of movement: Mt. Desolation is one of the most active groups I’ve ever seen on stage. And while these exaggerated gestures would likely be obnoxious in another setting, they work for this particular amalgamation of pop Americana. Their set was littered with bouncy, bass-driven numbers like “Departure” and “Platform 7”, which effectively warmed up the already clap-happy audience. For even the mildest of Keane aficionados, Rice-Oxley’s influence in both bands is readily apparent: Mt. Desolation imbues similar songwriting styles with a sizable dose of country flair. The result is not exactly deep, but definitely entertaining. Though they never reached a Mumford & Sons-esque level of rousing emotion, Mt. Desolation certainly started the hoedown.
As the long-awaited headlining band walked on stage, I went through my mental list of things I’ve come to expect from a Mumford & Sons show. They always seem to open their set, for example, with “Sigh No More”; Country Winston always adds some gyrations to his banjo-playing; Ben Lovett always has a toy donkey on his keyboard (look for it!). Most importantly, Mumford & Sons always, always brings an unparalleled energy to their live performances–a level of excitement and fervor that makes their studio album seem sleepy by comparison. As the band has become more widely known and the venues enlarged, this exuberance has thankfully not diminished. Wednesday’s show, attended by nearly 2300 adoring fans, was as much an emotional thrill as previous small-scale performances. Furthermore, their fame has come with the perks of a larger budget: a beautiful backdrop and glittering lights mimicked the “Little Lion Man” music video, and a horn section complemented “Winter Winds” and “The Cave”. Both “Winter Winds” and “After the Storm” have found their way back into live shows, and my unreleased favorite, “Feel the Tide”, was added to the encore. They also had time for some newer material–even more than the usual few that have been in rotation for some time now. A very new song, succinctly titled “New One” on the set list, is reminiscent of a more restrained “Nothing Is Written”; others, such as the always popular “Lover of the Light”, adopt a bit of rock and roll edge. Nothing veers too far from the formulas that worked so well on Sigh No More: the building energy and unbridled emotion that have become so definitive still operate with full force. For this gathered mass of overexcited San Franciscans (who began a chant of “Let’s go Giants!” at one point during the set), these new pieces provided a much-needed taste of the Mumford & Sons to come.
After the show, bassist Ted Dwane mentioned that the foursome had never been completely satisfied with their other San Francisco gigs. No one, however, could deny that last Wednesday’s performance was truly exceptional; more than one person in my general vicinity called it one of the best nights of their lives. As much as I’ve loved the band’s smaller gigs, the sheer power of two thousand bodies fully committing themselves to beloved music makes up for any lost intimacy. The show left me with the now familiar rush of pride I come to associate with all Mumford & Sons performances, and I realized it’s not just the music that keeps me coming back for more. Their shows make me feel like I’m part of a community–and that community, whether it’s Mumford & Sons fans or English new-folk in general, just keeps growing.
Stay tuned for more pictures (including personal ones with Ben, Ted, and King Charles)! Flickr account coming soon.