Mumford & Sons, Fanfarlo
Mark Grainger 07/03/2010
Mumford and Sons have certainly come a long way in a year. Releasing a chart bothering debut album in last year's Sigh No More and becoming firm favourites on BBC radio playlists with a handful of storming singles has seen the size of the venues and crowds that their performances demand jump from reasonably sized indie pubs to a sold out Basement at Newcastle University (one of the three largest venues in the city excluding the Arena)
As every square inch of the floor fills up with an alarming number of people in checky shirts and me and my sister-in-law are pushed into a distant corner, it's clear that there's a sense of anticipation that even a singularly interesting support band like Fanfarlo do little to quench the crowds folk-thirst. As a separate entity, they put on a good set, delivering a musical mixture that falls somewhere between Noah And The Whale's delivery and Patrick Wolf's more manic instrumentalism, with trumpets, violins and various other curious instruments all taking the spotlight, often in the same song, alongside a laconic vocal. Sometimes they veer dangerously close to being knowingly twee, and some of the moustaches on display would surely prevent them working with children, but overall they deliver a satisfyingly diverse set to those who listen.
After half an hour and an aborted attempt by myself to get anywhere near the vicinity of the bar, Mumford and Sons make their long awaited entrance, warming up proceedings in fine style with Sigh No More, a track that shows off both the breezy and furious sides of the band's playing. Standout album track Winter Winds soon follows with the inclusion of a brass section ensuring the song retains its impact and beauty. For their part The Mumford's are impressively tight, with each song sounding even more passionate than its recorded counterpart as the banjo pulses and the close harmonies are replicated to stunningly precise effect. It's hugely impressive to see and the apocalyptic energy that the band can unleash on tracks such as White Blank Page and I Gave You All is bolstered further by the usual audience roar adding to the harmonies.
A strong contender for standout moment however is Dust Bowl Dance, certainly not one of the highest points on the album, it soars live thanks in no small part to a furious turn on the drums by Marcus Mumford and an ability to maintain his melodic growl throughout. Most of Sigh No More gets an airing whilst several, as-yet unnamed, songs alongside the likes of The Cave and Roll Away Your Stone helps break any feeling of predictability.
There are a few issues, but none big enough to be a deal-breaker. Some of the set-up between songs takes long enough for conversation to break out among the crowd and when not playing the band seem positively shy. It wouldn't matter so much in a smaller setting and it's probably no more than a symptom of such a rapid jump into the big leagues. Some of the pacing is also a touch odd, with Little Lion Man appearing in the middle of the set whilst the night ends with a new song. It's a brave decision but the rapturous reception that greats the band's biggest single to date suggests that it would have served better as a euphoric ending. Still it does little to diminish an extremely accomplished and impressive evening's music.
Considering the band's skill on stage though, these are minor issues that will doubtlessly be ironed out with experience. Providing that they are, and are matched with an equally engaging second album, Mumford & Sons should soon take their rightful place amongst the very best bands on the road today.