Concert review: Mumford turns Pavilion into cathedral of folk music


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Mumford & Sons seems like the kind of band that must have played a club gig here somewhere along with the way.

You don't go direct to the giant amphitheater playing banjos and double bass, right?

Wrong.

On Thursday night, the London band lured a sold-out crowd of 20,000-plus through the gridlocked traffic to the First Niagara Pavilion for a Pittsburgh-area premiere for which some fans have waited three years.

The quartet put on the stirring show you'd expect from a band that won an Album of the Year Grammy, was picked to back Dylan and has appealed to this many people this fast.

The unrelated Mumford & Sons came loaded with the 2009 debut "Sigh No More" and last year's follow-up, "Babel," which stayed true to the band's seriously earnest songwriting and quiet-to-loud anthemic sound.

Frontman Marcus Mumford hit the stage with his three "Sons" -- keyboardist Ben Lovett, banjo player Winston Marshall, bassist Ted Dwane -- harmonizing in the dark about curses and sins on "Lovers' Eyes." They were quickly joined by a three-piece horn section, violin and cello to turn the song into one of their towering epics.

There was no waiting for the hits. They got right to "Little Lion Man," instantly turning the crowd into a massive choir. And turning some people into an emotional mess. The man behind me (who looked to be in his 60s) kept saying, "Oh my God, oh my God" as if he were a teenage girl at a One Direction concert.

If you like folk songs that make you feel like you're soaring through the ceiling of a cathedral into a cloud and right up toward heaven, this was your cosmic hoedown.

The current smash "I Will Wait," also early in the set, was almost too big for the Pavilion and could have used all of Heinz Field, PNC Park and Point State Park to contain it. Same goes for "Thistle & Weeds," which rivaled Wagner or Black Sabbath for bombast.

A lot of people say these Mumford songs all sound alike, but they do have a few different speeds, ranging all the way from churchy hymns ("Reminder," "Ghosts That We Knew") to the full-on banjo stomps ("Hopeless Wanderer," "The Cave").

I can see why people would have a religious experience with this band, but personally I'm not there, even after witnessing it live. Give me The Avett Brothers from the backwoods of North Carolina, who did this first and better, building a following from the ground up by playing the quiet parts more tenderly, the louder parts with more abandon and everything with more humor and humility.

Mumford & Sons is Americana on steroids, and positively U2-like in scope. Don't be surprised if it takes over the world.

Mumford had two other UK bands along for the ride. The Vaccines, in the middle slot, didn't mess with the quiet part of the quiet-to-loud formula and threw earnestness out the window, bashing out a hyper set of electric rock 'n' roll more in the Britpop vein of Arctic Monkeys. Led by physical frontman Justin Hayward Smith, they seemed to win over the Mumford crowd by tearing it up with such should-be hits as "Blow It Up" and "Teenage Icon" and the punk workout "Bad Mood." It's hard to not like a band that rumbles through a song like "I Always Knew" all hopped up on Buddy Holly.

Bear's Den was more of a bedroom folk band, bringing a melancholy touch and gorgeous lonesome harmonies to songs like "Isaac" and "Don't Let the Sun Steal You Away."

music

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg. First Published August 30, 2013 4:00 AM


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