Mumford & Sons At the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Tuesday
Did I miss something? Did someone like Barack Obama or Jon Stewart pull an Oprah and anoint Mumford & Sons as the band of the month at some point? Because the West London folk-rockers are a big deal, inexplicably.
They sell albums persistently, keeping the people at Soundscan busy with more than a million downloads of their debut North American release in early 2010, Sigh No More. This is beyond Arcade Fire or fellow "new-folk" revivalists such as Fleet Foxes – this is near Adelian.
And now the young, literate quartet – "sigh no more" is taken from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing – plays arenas. All with no radio hits, viral videos or outstanding-bosom situation.
Be that as it may, at the Air Canada Centre, the life met its party. A robust crowd stood on its feet early, never resting for the show of earnest hoedown – a rush of hardy Celtic melodies, affecting group harmonies, battle-cry passion and banjo ruralism.
It was something akin to Riverdance meeting Kings of Leon, or the sinking of the Decemberists in the Great Big Sea.
The opening song, Lover's Eyes, is new, likely to appear on an album to arrive in 2012. The ballad sulked with a sort of quiet, swallowed rage. With gruff earnestness, singer-guitarist (and sometimes drummer) Marcus Mumford delivered his poetics – words that concern prices paid, ashes shook to the wind and the curse of a lover's eyes.
Roll Away Your Stone brooded more buoyantly, with crashes and sweeps fit for the arena. Mumford's bandmates are not actual sons, but a banjo player, a stand-up bassist and a keyboardist/drummer. The capable four were fortified by three hornists and one fiddler.
One of the new ones, we were told, was getting its premiere in Toronto. No song title was given, but the number hustled and bustled at high, aggressive folk-rock tempo. Mumford avowed to kneel down on the ground, where he would wait for his lover. It was passion at a Daniel Day-Lewis alert level, if you recall The Last of the Mohicans.
A respite from the earnestness and sameness in approach came in the form of a Neil Young cover, Dance Dance Dance, a barnyard hoot. The audience absolutely knew the words to Little Lion Man, the most well-known of Mumford's catalogue.
The Cave, another single, brought things to a rousing close – a finale, sure thing, with more about holding onto hope and finding strength in pain. These are relatable sentiments, if delivered in somewhat over-dramatic prose and fashion.
Mumford & Sons delivers warmly and passionately, with sturdy musicianship and fine voice. Much ado about that, apparently.
AT THE CONCERT
There's Tony Orlando, then there's Dawn. There's Florence, then there's the Machine. And there's Mumford. The gruff-throated Londoner Marcus Mumford is the star here.
Where were the hit singles? Mumford & Sons has as many ampersands as radio hits (at least on this side of the Atlantic).
More than 15,000 dorm-room-living, Apple-gadget-loving, music-downloading aficionados, who find Fleet Foxes just a little too fey and who think Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band is a vampire film.
"Dude, do you know that website Stuff White People Like?"
Never has fake-Irish folk rock been done with so much sincerity.