Despite Their Best Efforts, It's Still The Banjos That Make Mumford & Sons

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No matter what they do, Mumford & Sons will likely never escape their reputation as the polite British guys with the banjos.

That's not to say there was no effort involved. The quartet traded their vests and their plaid for solid colors and single layers, and the smoky lighting added some intensity. Lead vocalist Marcus Mumford even (carefully) knocked over one of the drums like a rock star right after sparks showered down behind them at the end of the main set. But this isn't what made the crowd go wild — the real highlights were the tracks from Sigh No More and Babel, back before the group ditched the folky sound and attempted a transition to a purer form of rock. 

This is probably why the show didn't truly get started until the second song, "I Will Wait," of former radio fame. The crowd sensed it, Mumford sensed it, and excitement rippled through the packed pavilion until it was the audience's turn to scream the lyrics while Mumford stood atop a speaker with his fist in the air and a massive grin on his face.
Feeding off crowd energy was a strength that made up for a lack of customized banter, with Mumford assuring the audience at least twice that the band loves Phoenix. They love Arizona. They enjoy playing here and promise to come back. One unique tidbit, though: "I've had some of the best weeks of my life in the Grand Canyon on a boat." Maybe it was the British accent, but it felt kind and sincere. 

Whether shouting the lyrics or murmuring the most personally poignant ones to themselves, the people sang along whenever they could. The most magical moment of this was during "White Blank Page," when the heartache was palpable as the most Instagram-caption-worthy line, "But tell me now, where was my fault in loving you with my whole heart?" resonated through the entire pavilion. 

During the 20 songs, Mumford was everywhere, from center stage to seated at the drums to the middle of the crowd that quickly became a swarm from which he had to be lifted by security. It goes to show that no matter how old the crowd, pretty much everyone turns into a fangirling teenager in the presence of the right celebrity.
The set list almost equally balanced songs from the group's three albums and kept the crowd on its toes, dancing wildly one minute and swaying with lighters (read: smartphone flashlights) the next. But there was a method to the madness. True to expectation, the banjos were always the mood lifters — for both the band and the audience — after the more melancholy numbers like "Ghosts That We Knew" and "Below My Feet." All it took was a few notes from "The Cave" or "Roll Away Your Stone" to bring back the smiles and the hands waving around in the air. These were their shining moments. And for even more entertainment, there was always keyboardist Ben Lovett and his commitment to grooving in his own little world regardless of what he was playing. 

Usually, there is direct correlation between the excitement of the crowd and the number of cell phones in the air, and"Little Lion Man" was no exception. The chart-topper was neither the closer nor the final encore, but it inspired recognition in even the reluctant husbands. Instead, right before leaving the stage, the group played "The Wolf," possibly to remind the crowd that they're still making music and aren't the same as they were when "Little Lion Man" brought them fame. 

Also, the end of the show brought (thankfully) the first and only political statement of the night: "We like your country a lot. Try not to mess it up."
Critic's Notebook

Last night: Catfish & The Bottlemen ("A bunch of Welsh tossers," according to Mumford) and Mumford & Sons at Ak-Chin Pavilion

The crowd: Millenials were in the minority here, despite the overheards noted below.

Overheard: "Once they nixed the banjos, I was like, 'eh.'"

Overheard 2: "We were talking about celebrity crushes, and it was really hard to pick, obviously. But Marcus Mumford is literally daddy."

ICYMI: Two new songs, "Forever" and "Blind Leading the Blind"

Random notebook dump: "Did I miss the memo that the dress code was white, black, and denim? Hell, even the band got the memo. Also: Why are people smoking weed at a folk rock show?" 

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