Mumford & Sons has become synonymous with the folk-rock revival of the last decade. When critics address the trend, Mumford has lead the list of Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and Avett Brothers. Nominated for six Grammys for its debut, “Sigh No More,” its place in the pack was solidified with its 2013 Album of the Year Grammy win for its sophomore effort, “Babel.”
Yet Mumford’s eclipsing success rubbed some Avett Brothers’ fans the wrong way. Scott Avett had been thumping a kickdrum with his foot, strumming banjo and screaming like an emo punk with guitarist brother Seth and upright bassist Bob Crawford years before Mumford was a band.
That didn’t stop Mumford fans from calling the American band “wannabes,” even though Mumford’s Winston Marshall told Rolling Stone that the band listened to the Avetts’ “Four Thieves Gone” repeatedly while making its first album.
The bands’ parallel paths to the mainstream – including less and less old-timey output and the addition of live drums and electric instruments – didn’t really rattle the bands’ members. Together they backed Bob Dylan on the 2011 Grammy Awards telecast.
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Just last month Scott and Seth Avett joined Mumford on stage at the Okeechobee Festival in Florida, jamming on AC/DC, Springsteen and the Animals along with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello – an elder statesmen of both bands’ formative ’90s.
Who’s to say if the brothers in banjo will join Mumford Thursday when it plays Avett country for the first time, headlining Time Warner Cable Arena? (The Avetts don’t have tour dates scheduled that week.)
Yet for all the comparisons (Spin Magazine even did a Who’s Who-style reader quiz in 2012), Mumford & Sons’ 2015 album, “Wilder Mine,” saw the band evolving away from acoustic instruments, vintage-looking dress and a blatant love of American roots music. “Wilder Mine” is an atmospheric arena rock album more in line with Coldplay and Kings of Leon.
As with the Avetts, who stayed much truer to their original sound, the change has been criticized by die-hards complaining that Mumford abandoned its identity and now sounds like every other rock band. Yet Mumfod & Sons never intended to be a one-trick pony, especially given its members’ individual histories playing rock ’n’ roll and jazz.
For those who never dug the group’s earnest folk-pop, the first single, “The Wolf,” was like a breath of fresh air revealing a darker animal beneath the sunshine and heart tugging. Yet “Wilder Mine” still resonates with the sort of Everyman quality that NPR’s Ann Powers credits with their appeal. In a 2012 column, she discusses Mumford’s U2-like religious undertones and lyrical yearning for average desires like family, marriage, comfort and stability.
Powers writes: “Mumford and his band connect with a different lineage, an approach that honors music’s ability to unite and create an aura of ennoblement. It’s long proven powerful with audiences and highly problematic for certain music listeners I’d cautiously call elites – people like me, who write about music for a living, or others who’ve built lives around a particular rock ’n’ roll code.”
Mumford may be uncool to a certain strain of music lover, but as with the Avetts and Coldplay it can turn an arena full of fans into a spiritual revival. Its new music still has that effect even without the bashing banjo.
It’s not like Mumford has forgotten what it is. Recent set lists are peppered with its folk-rock hits. Its members still gather round one microphone for a few songs. But its show is now more complex, diverse and layered given its expanding playbook.
Mumford & Sons
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, 333 E. Trade St.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com.