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Review: Mumford & Sons @ The Warfield

Last night was a big night for San Francisco: the Giants won, and Mumford & Sons played at the Warfield. Lucky for the band, the game wrapped up before they took to the stage, marked by a surge of cheers from all of the orange and black-clad Mumford fans glued to their droids on the dance floor.  But Mumford was forgiving of the distraction, and even encouraged the random chanting (“Let’s go, Giants!”) when it arose, no matter how awkward (the band was brought out for the encore to a chorus of: “Let’s go, Mumford!”).

Perhaps the London-based band expected it after having played here at least three times before. The size of their host venue has grown exponentially with the group’s exploding fame after the release of their debut album, Sigh No More. Today they’re selling-out venues all over the country. Last night’s show at the Warfield was no exception.

I am generally biased toward smaller venues where crowd members can slip and slide in the performers’ sweat, but Mumford somehow managed to keep their set intimate despite the bigger performance space. Although guitarist and lead vocalist Marcus Mumford was the obvious front man of the group, and did most of the between-song banter, all of the band members stood in a neat line across the front of the stage so that no one performer ever upstaged another. When there was a break in this formation, it was usually Mumford stepping back behind the drum set, still tilting back his head and belting his unique, guttural vocals while pounding away at the toms.

The organization of the songs seemed carefully planned out to take the crowd from zero to fifty and then back again, the ebbs and flows of Mumford’s foot-stomping setting the pace for fans crowding the dance floor. But it wasn’t until a few songs in, when the first banjo pickings of “Roll Away Your Stone” rang out, that the audience threatened to turn the dance floor into an alt-country themed mosh pit. As the ferocity of music increased, so did the crowd’s enthusiasm for throwing elbows. I escaped with just a few crushed toes and one elbow to the face by the encore.

Still, when the music quieted, so did the crowd -- besides a few whoops and marriage proposals.  “It’s amazing when so many people can be so quiet,” keyboardist Ben Lovett remarked after the band played “Timshel,” one of their calmer anthems.

Mumford played a couple new tunes last night (including one that banjo player Country Winston announced is called “New One”), but stuck mainly to songs from Sigh No More. Keeping a crowd fully engaged for over an hour with only one album to pull from is no easy task. Mumford succeeded with a combination of straight musical talent, solid planning, and a few unexpected additions like horn players to a couple of songs. Band members also chatted easily with the crowd, making for a more intimate show than a big venue like the Warfield might otherwise provide.

“We’re smoking whatever you’re smoking,” Mumford said near the start of the set. Crowd members who weren’t already swooning were won over either by the blatant brown-nosing (“You’re much cooler than Los Angeles,” said Mumford) or the discussion about how children’s toys never feature graphic genetalia (“It’s bullshit,” said Lovett).

Openers Mt. Desolation, which features two members of the Brit-pop group Keane, warmed up the crowd with harmonies so sweet they could bring peace to war-torn countries. Anyone not left with a tooth-ache undoubtedly went straight back to their droids to find out more about the band. King Charles, the band that started the show, is another Brit-pop group to look out for in the coming months.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Charles headlining at venues around the city soon.

--Anna McCarthy

All photographs by Misha Vladirmirskiy