Given the current political climate in North Carolina, fans of Mumford & Sons should have been breathing a sigh of relief on Thursday night just for the fact that the band opted to take the stage at Time Warner Cable Arena.
After all, in the past week, similarly socially conscious artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr canceled shows in Greensboro and Cary, respectively – both in protest of the state’s anti-LGBT legislation known as House Bill 2.
In my mind, Mumford’s is a move well worth applauding. Instead of drawing the ire of fans, the U.K. folk-rockers inspired them. Instead of trying to get its message across exclusively via social media, the group delivered it in person, along with 19 of the most passionate songs they could muster up.
The message was this: “We respect the choices those other bands have made, but that wasn’t the right choice for us,” lead singer Marcus Mumford told the sold-out arena after opening with searing newer single “Snake Eyes,” breakthrough 2009 hit “Little Lion Man” and stomp-heavy crowd pleaser “Below My Feet.”
“I think that we’ve sort of been feeling an underlying culture of fear that’s creeping into things, where we live and where you guys are, and we just want to stand and celebrate really the American values of justice and love. So we’re gonna have a justice and love festival with you tonight.”
He also noted that the band was donating all profits “to charity” (a post on its Facebook page Wednesday said the beneficiary would be “a local LGBTQ organisation”).
That was it. Message delivered.
Mumford & Sons made it clear where they stood, but they also made it clear that we could count on them to then put politics aside and just play.
And man, can they play. The other three guys in the band – keyboardist Ben Lovett, guitarist Winston Marshall and bassist Ted Dwane – combine to produce an improbably tight sound, utilizing a variety of instruments (and backed on several songs by two horns and one fiddler).
But Marcus Mumford is the key. The 29-year-old’s vocals manage to feel both rugged and buttery at the same time, coming across as delicate in one breath (on acoustic versions of the very folk-y “Sister” and “Cold Arms,” which they performed on a small stage to the rear of the floor section during the first part of the encore) but overpowering and arresting you in the next (on barn burners such as the rock-heavy “I Will Wait” and “The Wolf,” which closed the show).
One of the high points of the night saw him belting out the unrelenting “Ditmas” as he ventured into the far reaches of the lower level and then leapt down to get nearly swallowed up as he moved through the standing-room-only floor section – a stunt that no doubt gave his security minders nightmares.
The highest, though, came during the encore, when Mumford sprung a marvelously melancholy cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” on the crowd using that rugged/buttery voice.
Truth is, the band has been playing this song at live shows now for years. But on Thursday, still feeling the sting of having been bailed on by The Boss, we all secretly – or maybe not-so-secretly? – hoped that Mumford & Sons was wrapping up its “justice and love festival” in a nice, neat, ironic little bow.