"How can anyone who's dedicated to loud, raucous music--the stuff that's supposed to rip through life's dull normality--employ it in the service of such commonplace, even the orthodox, hopes and dreams? But for many, this emotional stance deeply resonates."
-Ann Powers, "Mumford & Sons Preaches to Masses"
"But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again
Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I'll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind"
-Mumford & Sons, "The Cave"
It is rare that I attend mainstream concerts anymore, mostly for financial reasons, but it also seems that so many popular bands lack the kind of substance worth investing in. Good for getting me going on the dance floor maybe, but not so much pouring money and a lot of time into. That said, when I moved to Belfast, hearing and seeing the folksy pop act Mumford & Sons--arguably the biggest band in the world right now--in the United Kingdom became one of the main "bucket list" items. Many of the so-called "critics" have been slow to join the bandwagon (I suspect it has something to do with their explicitly-spiritual lyrical themes), but we cannot deny that the Mumford & Sons have a particular kind of effect on a lot of fans.
Odyssey Arena in downtown Belfast, and it did not disappoint. Admittedly, after ten or so days of unrest in Belfast, I went somewhat nervously, but there was no "trouble," thankfully. And it was thrilling, really, it's own kind of spiritual experience. The atmosphere, as I expected it would be, was quite electric; the only thing I've seen that compares was a Coldplay concert a few years ago in Indianapolis, but I like Mumford better than Colplay. I'm no musical genius, but it seems that pace and noise level is so important to the effect Mumford has on its fans and why it keeps winning over more and more people. You hear all varieties of speed and loudness, and the accelerations make you smile, stand, clap, dance, and cheer. You walk out feeling uplifted, ready to confront all that life is throwing your way.
Seeing a Mumford concert--and to a lesser degree listening to an album or even song--feels like a great epic. You get the sense that you're participating in a great battle between good and evil and that despite all the evidence in this world to the contrary, good actually has a shot to win the whole thing. But that victory doesn't and won't come cheaply. With Marcus Mumford--who I decided looks a bit like Tim Tebow--leading us in, there are ups and downs, great joys and pains, failures and triumphs.
It has been well-noted that Mumford is the son of a minister, and while he has intentionally avoided being preachy in interviews (probably a smart move), I cannot help but notice that the themes and the success and the vision don't seem to be as incoherent or accidental or as opportunistic as the average, fly-by-night hit. Something is driving the whole thing. There are of course the more blatant lyrical clues ("I set out to serve the Lord" and "You were meant to meet your Maker"), but I am really more interested in the big picture of Creation ("There is a design"), Fall ("I really fucked it up this time"), and Redemption (And there will come a time, you'll see/ with no more tears/ And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears/ Get over your hill and see what you find there). It's all there. It is the sort of worldview that has the potential to make sense of what has and will surely come, the telos to orient them into the future relational, financial, and otherwise unforeseen tensions and conflicts that will surely come their way.
The ultimate test, I suppose like most bands, will be in how long they last. It's easy to forget that these guys are in their mid-twenties, younger than I am. When I was an undergraduate, I remember arguing with friends about whether U2 was handing off their greatest-band-in-the-world torch to Coldplay. I like Coldplay, but I didn't really buy it. Their sound is catchy, but not unique enough, and I wasn't so sure Coldplay had enough of a compass to stay compelling for very long (they could still prove me wrong, of course). A band like The Fray has the compass but maybe not the unique sound. Mumford & Sons may just have both. I certainly hope that twenty and thirty years from now I am still listening to them, sounding a bit different by then I'm sure, and that this was only the first of their concerts that I'll attend.
Questions for the reader: What do you like or not like about Mumford & Sons? How long do you think they'll be around?