Mumford & Sons

* * * - -

Mumford & Sons provide a fun, anthem-filled night at the SSE Hydro, but they still look like a band who are trying to find their identity.

Image of Mumford & Sons

@ SSE Hydro, Glasgow, on Mon 14 Dec

Despite their meteoric rise over the past few years, it would be hard to find a band who divide public opinion more than Mumford & Sons. They are a group who are adored by millions, yet often find themselves the butt of the joke among many critics. On their latest album, Wilder Mind, released in May this year, they ditched their tweed waistcoats and trusty banjos in favour of leather jackets and thrashing electric guitars. Some would say that it’s a risky strategy to move away from the formula that has served them so well, but they return to Glasgow tonight having sold out two nights at the SSE Hydro in a matter of hours.

The show opens in a fairly low-key manner; the lights are down for all of a few seconds before the four men appear unassumingly from the side of the stage and kick things off with Snake Eyes, from Wilder Mind. The alluring sounds of Winston Marshall’s electric guitar ring around the arena before Marcus Mumford’s unmistakable husky vocals can be heard, as the song rushes to a huge, thrashing crescendo.

However, we have only reached the second song of the night when we are taken back to the Mumford & Sons of old, as the frontman straps on his acoustic guitar and Marshall’s banjo reappears for the anthemic I Will Wait. In fact, the rest of the night follows this pattern with the band content to switch between new rockier anthems such as the impressively smouldering Tompkins Square Park and the “hoedowns” of old, such as Lover of the Light.

This results in a slightly erratic set which takes a while to get going. As they plod through unremarkable songs such as Monster and Thistle and Weeds, it has to be said that the first half of the gig is slightly underwhelming. There is a distinct lack of energy, particularly from frontman Marcus Mumford, who notably shares that this is the last night of their UK tour and they “are all close to hospitalisation”. This seems to feed into the Glasgow crowd, who uncharacteristically take a while to warm up.
Interestingly though, it is the familiar material from debut album Sigh No More which gets the biggest crowd reaction. The Cave is as popular as ever, and sees bums evacuate seats for the first time as the crowd jump in unison to the chorus. Ben Lovett on keyboard is quick to declare that “now it feels like we’re in Glasgow”. Roll Away Your Stone keeps up the feel-good atmosphere, while new song Ditmas sees Marcus Mumford run around the back of the arena and right into the middle of the crowd. It’s a spectacular moment with fans chasing him as he ploughs his way back to the stage, trying to desperately grasp the frontman as remarkably, his vocals remain intact. From this point onwards, the atmosphere is electric, carrying through until the brilliant encore which sees a rousing rendition of crowd favourite Little Lion Man.

The highlight of the show comes in a very quiet moment, when the four men gather around the one microphone at the front of the stage and provide delicate harmonies on the beautiful Timshel and Cold Arms. They are backed by 13,000 voices with the audience remaining completely captivated throughout.

It’s a strange gig that is slow to get started but is very enjoyable when it does. Love them or hate them, Mumford & Sons know how to write a massive singalong anthem. However, no matter how many lasers and pyrotechnics they throw out, or drum kits they kick over, they’re never going to be a rock ‘n’ roll band. Instead, they fit in with the Coldplays and U2s of this world, making harmless, dare I say it, run-of-the-mill, music to be played in arenas like this. On tonight’s evidence, it’s clear to see that Mumford & Sons haven’t had a complete makeover. Instead, it seems that they are a band who are still trying to find their identity.