Last Night: Mumford & Sons, The Middle East at Slim's

Categories: Last Night
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Mumford & Sons
The Middle East
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Slim's

Better Than: "Liquid Velvety Nothingness"

...which was one concertgoer's choice expression for describing the high from weed and peyote --something I know nothing about. But this rock 'n' roll fan at last night's show assured me of the comparison. If not better than "liquid velvety nothingness," Mumford & Sons and opener The Middle East were better than a lot of somethingnesses.

I wondered what a drug-tripping, Grateful Dead-loving rocker was doing at a concert for the folksy Mumford & Sons. I recently heard their song "Winter Winds" at American Eagle Outfitters, a store that screams teenage prepster more than just about anything else, except maybe Abercrombie & Fitch. It turned out this former Deadhead came on a leap of faith with his daughter who likes herself some Mumford banjo.

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It seemed initially that the concert was indeed a rest stop for teens. An early trip to the women's restroom felt like a scene straight out of Hipster High. Girls stuck close together in packs and debated the pain factor of Monroe piercings. They had braided hair, purple Chucks, plaid shirts, and thin headbands that cut their foreheads in half. Like true fan girls, within minutes, many had concealed their billowy blouses under oversized white Mumford shirts, distributed by a fair-haired British man who nonchalantly took swigs from his beer bottle and tugged at the drawstrings on his track pants in between sales. His charming accent coated even the most generic actions in gold.

But as the show got under way, the teen demographic risked usurpation. The London quartet had brought in everyone from middle-aged women to a dad who patiently held his restless young son during the prolonged sound check after The Middle East's set. Except for this lull, which had the stage manager yawning as well, the room was full and warm with the buzz of excited chatter and the smell of onion rings and beer that gave way to a comfortable mustiness.

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Opening band The Middle East

The Middle East revived the youth factor. They're Australia's version of The Partridge Family; just shaggier, and with tighter, breathtaking harmonies. Why the baby-faced lead singer is sing-talking about coming home from the Vietnam War, I'm not sure. But I let it slide because there is so much tambourine and maraca shaking, stomping, jumping and clapping that I believe they mean whatever they are chanting about. There's change a comin'-- don't just sit there! Gosh darnit!

As if there were any doubt that these bands aren't from around these parts, Mumford & Sons --what with its evocations of strawberry fields, the Shire, and standing on the brink of a glorious revolution right before the first canon shot, rolled into one -- talked at length about America.

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"This is the second gig where someone in the audience has apologized to us about the Revolutionary War," frontman Marcus Mumford said in response to a crowd member. "That was one of our less important wars," he said, smiling through his sweat.

The band mastered the quiet moments that dominate its debut album, Sigh No More, but keyboardist Ben Lovett's soulful playing and a slight rasp to Mumford's otherwise pure and gentle voice add an entirely new dimension only heard live. At times, the group ditched its banjos and double bass for a full-blown guitar sound. It was uncharacteristic but still authentic enough to solidify their position as versatile pioneers of 21st century-style folk.

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After all, Mumford oozes authenticity; then again, his British accent and kind blue eyes could be clouding my judgment. He thanked the audience repetitively and profusely and agreed to a two-song encore.

"Stop being so awesome," someone shouted.

Thankfully, it wasn't taken literally.

Critic's Notebook:

Banjoist Marshall "Country" Winston from Mumford & Sons joked that his visit in California had so far included a grizzly bear spotting on the side of the road. "That was amazing," he said. "How many of you have seen grizzly bears? Two? Three of us have."

I am a sucker for pianos and pink tambourines.


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