[We're not sure a seemingly uncontroversial band has ever generated as much controversy as Mumford and Sons have in their brief stint as folky chart-toppers. To celebrate their show tonight at Desert Sky Pavilion, we looked for voices from both sides of the (surprisingly heated) Mumford & Sons debate to argue each side of the question. For the Con side, click here. - Ed.]
Mumford and Sons is impossible to avoid. If you're not hearing their songs, or experiencing their fashion sense first-hand, you're hearing the songs that have found radio success in their wake, or seeing your friends' new mustaches. For that reason, if nothing else, the backlash was inevitable.
But under all the grave social import, they're really just a band with some good pop songs who've done some neat things and become inconceivably successful. Here are five reasons they haven't earned the backlash they've received.
5. They put on a great live show.
They don't necessarily seem like they'd put on a good live show--we just don't yet have a mental framework for dealing with a bunch of guys who wear steampunk outfits putting on a great live show--but they've earned some strong reviews from Up on the Sun (and our sibling blogs) since they began touring the states a few years ago. Here's us talking about their appearance on the Railroad Revival Tour in Tempe back in 2011:
Even though the show was great up to that point, the night was really all about Mumford & Sons. There's something particularly spiritual about their live performances... There was no doubt that they successfully made a great impression on everyone who came out to Tempe for the biggest stop on the Railroad Revival Tour. They packed the house. Even people who lived at the apartments next to the concert site flooded the buildings' rooftops and balconies. Eventually people were filling the streets outside the fence as well. Everyone came out to see a soulful performance, and that's exactly what they got.
Here's RFTMusic describing a similar experience that year:
While Mumford's vocal intensity builds, the melody trickles to near-silence. Then: the switch. The strumming picks up pace, the crowd starts clapping, and "Country" Winston Marshall - natty rattail and all - breaks in with a double-time line on the banjo he's only been ogling until now.
Commence the first of a thousand rising wordless choruses, generating a googolplex of "ah-AH"'s. Keyboardist Ben Lovett and bassist Ted Dwane waltz with their instruments and add unconstrained harmonies, all while somehow wearing self-deprecating grins. It's a singalong, clapalong, stomping free-for-all.
This is not a jam band, folks. The songs end, and abruptly. Cathartic blue balls ensue. Repeat.
Mumford and Sons followed the same script that it has since its first St. Louis show a year ago, at a sold-out Off Broadway. Last night, the band's hybrid folk and themes of feel-good martyrdom translated easily to a crowd of 2,000 without losing energy or intimacy.
4. Marcus will make your heart sing.
Here's Natalie Gallagher of City Pages on Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" video.
Mumford and Sons' new single "I Will Wait" (from the band's upcoming album Babel, due September 24) has been playing on the airwaves almost incessantly since its release just last month in early August, and now, finally, fans have some eye candy to attach to the unavoidably uplifting track...
As the camera zeroes in on the captivatingly handsome leading man, Marcus Mumford, around the 2:50 mark, one can imagine the pulses of impressionable viewers quickening. He's all brooding, sweaty stateliness -- singing with his flinty, rugged voice about how he is both manly and sensitive:
"So I'll be bold As well as strong And use my head alongside my heart So take my flesh And fix my eyes That tethered mind free from the lies"
And it just totally works for him, doesn't it?
3. They inspire beautiful fanart.
Mumford & Sons are not your correspondent's preferred midcult British fanart subject--I'm a Harry Potter guy--but they've stimulated the Etsy economy by their very presence, as Heard Mentality discovered:
2. Their "Gentleman of the Road" Tour is actually really cool.
Over the last two years Mumford & Sons have hosted a series of strange and fascinating "stopover" events, in which they appear (with other bands) in unlikely places and create a very earnest-sounding mini-festival. Here's Kiernan Maletsky describing the experience:
I actually went to this thing last year in Dixon, Illinois, and it was incredible. Forget, for a moment, your opinion of the headlining band itself and take stock of how unlikely this thing is. The tour isn't supported by a huge booking company like Livenation. There are no fees of any kind on tickets. At last year's installment, there wasn't a single sponsor logo anywhere. Not on the stage, not on the adorably handcrafted "passport" tickets, not on the banners and paintings around town. We talked to Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboards, accordion and drums) this afternoon and he explained the band's motivation for these shows. "We don't want to go out and just live backstage in an arena and make a ton of cash," he says. "And look back and wonder what that was really all for. The Stopovers are more of an expression of our values and the kind of music we like. We're lucky to be in this position -- doing more than just playing the songs that we write."
Lovett ended his Stopover in Illinois last year shirtless and dancing with wild abandon to The Very Best. I know that because I was pressed against the barrier doing much the same. There was also street fair in the town's actual downtown and the local businesses made an absolute killing.
That sounds like something a lot of people who refuse to like Mumford & Sons... would probably like.
1. Their success won't change their music, even though it feels like it does now.
At the Houston Press, confessed Mumford fan Selena Dieringer is dealt a very difficult hand to play: She loves the sedate, pensive pop that's flooding the airwaves, but she's worried about what happens when the rapidly expanding "banjo bubble" bursts.
I guess it isn't exactly "news" that Top 40 radio kills music. A song gets popular and then completely destroyed through massive amounts of overplay. This is still happening to some of the greatest bands of all time. I often think that classic-rock stations seem to only be aware that the Rolling Stones have five songs, and three of those songs are "Brown Sugar." So why is it any more annoying this time around?
Maybe it's because I don't want to hate this music. I enjoy it. I want to listen to it. And its absurd overplay is making my Okie vinyl collect a lot of dust. The anger I experience when "Ho Hey" comes on is really unhealthy... I actually hate that song. I'm pretty sure I liked it six months ago.
Or maybe it's because the Billboard Banjo Boom is taking music that's never really had much radio play and making it damn near unlistenable. It seems to be outside the typical ebb and flow of what is often considered "pop" music: we [were] not surprised when we hear Bieber's whiny ass yearning for beauties and beats and whatever 100 times a day...
... Of course I want these talented artists to be successful. I just can't stomach their success being shoved down my throat 28 times in a single day. It's really making me yearn for a simpler time, like 2010... when Beyonce and Gaga and Katy and Ke$ha were the pop stars instead of a bunch of bearded dudes wearing waistcoats and corduroy.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.