Even in Music City, U.S.A., very rarely does a band come along that is so innovative and emotionally captivating that an entire room hangs on every single note and lyric the band plays. This past Monday evening, I was fortunate enough to experience this twice with the London quartet Mumford & Sons, first at showcase at The Basement near downtown Nashville, then at the sold out full show at the War Memorial Auditorium.
If you haven’t been to The Basement, it’s quite smaller than the name leads on. If a band can survive the proximity and pressure of expectations in a small Nashville venue, they can be expected to succeed just about anywhere.
Even running a little behind, Mumford & Sons executed this brilliantly. Equipped with an upright bass, banjo, Martin acoustic guitar, pedal bass drum, and an accordion, the guys reassured the crowd why they’ve had such a quick rise to fame since forming in 2007. Their musicianship was flawless, even with the undesired and heavily reverberated sound setup. The intensity of the nature of the songs and the response they received from the crowd was apparent through all four songs.
Upon closing the preview set, the band sent their thanks and was gone quicker than they came. Even after waiting in line longer than the actual performance, the only negative thought escaping from the crowd was that Mumford & Sons didn’t play their breakthrough single “Little Lion Man.” They had to leave the crowd wanting more at their main show downtown, right?
A lot can be said just by looking at the crowd that a band pulls in. Even if you had never heard Mumford & Son’s progressive sound, you could guess their influences by the attire worn in the War Memorial Auditorium. There were women in flower dresses and cowboy boots, plenty of plaid button ups—some worn with boots, others worn with Converses—some men in skinny jeans, and a wide variety of leather jackets. These indie, rock, country, bluegrass, folk, and pop fans were all crowded on the general admission main floor and seated in the balcony above.
With a total span of two hours of opening acts, including both artsy British rock (King Charles) and country/bluegrass throwdown (Cadillac Sky), the audience was methodically warmed up for everything Mumford & Sons would hit them with for the remaining two hours, or so I thought.
The only words Mumford said before beginning the first song were “Good evening.” The room instantly went silent as the band began their title track “Sigh No More.” A sort of déjà vu began as the room’s responsiveness was if not equal, but more passionate than back at The Basement. The crowd sang along, clapped along, stomped along, and jumped along through each song the quartet played.
However, the main difference in this set was the scale of the show. A bigger venue meant more fans, but also more instruments. The band added a keyboard, played by Ben Lovett, and lap steele, played by Winston Marshall. A brass duo also backed up the band throughout the night. What was extremely impressive was the band was so versatile with their ability to play such a variety of instruments. With some newly written songs, “Keep the Earth Below My Feet” and “Lover of the Light,” the band expanded their bluegrass instrumentation using an electric guitar, electric bass (Ted Dwane), and full drum set.
In the entire two hours, while playing through majority of their debut album, the energy in the room never dropped, but was only built upon. With the help of simple lighting accenting the bass drum hits, the rhythm of the songs began to feel like a defibrillator forcing the crowd’s hearts to beat in sync with the music.
The stand out moment of the night was during the encore. Mumford & Sons welcomed out legendary bluegrass band Old Crow Medicine Show to sing a couple songs, including the hit “Rock Me Like A Wagon Wheel.” I’ve never seen an entire crowd glow with such adoration, exhilaration, and energy.
It’s safe to say that this Monday, Nashville was hit with a British invasion—but Music City welcomed Mumford & Sons with true Southern hospitality, in hopes that they would return again soon.