Patient Fans Reap Rollicking Reward at Mumford and Sons' First Ottawa Show
All photos by Mike Wing.
“Hello,” said Marcus Mumford in the darkness of the Canadian Tire Centre. For a city that has patiently waited for Mumford and Sons to play here, those two syllables were all the 17,000 plus in the sold-out arena needed to hear in order to erupt into a cacophony of appreciation.
“Well, we should have come to Ottawa sooner,” Mumford said. “So glad we came at last. Sorry it took so long.”
Seven years ago, the band exploded onto the scene, breathing new life into folk-rock. Their debut album Sigh No More reached success in a similar template utilized in many of their songs. It started slow, steadily gained speed before reaching a peak that made the album 5x Platinum. The debut also became the seventh album in history to achieve over 1 million digital copies sold. It was like bluegrass decided to have a relationship with alternative rock. The band sliced through the tunes permeating the airwaves with instruments not quite used to such chart success. Mandolins, banjos, accordions and flugelhorns played at speeds to match the energy of a band that quickly picked up a loyal fan base for their intensely spirited performances.
It didn’t take long to ignite those inside the Canadian Tire Centre. “Little Lion Man,” the band’s first single, was the second song in the set and it brought the crowd to its feet within seconds after the first chords rang out. Mumford’s vocals were almost drowned out by the fans singing along and the rumble made by thousands of stamping feet hitting the arena floor in unison. At least a 6.8 on the Mumford Scale, you may have felt it out in Orleans.
Whereas the band didn’t disappoint with songs from their last two releases, nearly half of the 18 song setlist was dominated by tunes from last year’s Wilder Mind, a release that saw a departure in the folk-rock sound fans had come to expect. Out went the acoustic instruments and tunes that would be comfortable at a hoedown and in walked some synthesisers and a more electric sound. The band met with some criticism for the change after some saw it as a shedding of their uniqueness in exchange for music that could be interchangeable with most other alternative rock bands.
“They now sound like they’re trying to be the biggest band in the world, rather than a revival act that somehow stumbled into the role,” Time said in their review of the album.
For fans like Liz and Latice Fuentes, such critique didn’t matter. The mother/daughter duo –attending their fifth Mumford and Sons concert that evening– say that the change is just a natural progression of the group’s music and that they shouldn’t be blighted for trying to evolve.
“Every band has to evolve and that’s what they are doing,” said Liz. “If you enjoyed what they did in the past you want that to happen and you just enjoy what they put out.”
Emily Smith, attending her first show decked out in a new band t-shirt, took a bit longer to warm up to the new music.
“I was a bit sad at first because I don’t like change,” she says laughing. “But it was actually really cool. It grows on you. It’s still them, it’s the same sound. It’s just brought out a different way.”
Fuentes says the live experience of seeing the band, no matter what they are playing, is what keeps her coming back for more. “The crowd participation, the camaraderie, everyone knows the words, everyone reacts to every song. It’s almost a joyful occasion.”
Even the best of musicians, however, can get distracted in even the happiest of joy filled romps. Mumford had to restart one of the band’s more popular songs, “Ghosts That We Knew,” with his mind still on a day of sports watching back at the hotel.
“We would have gone out and seen Ottawa today if the soccer hadn’t been on all day. It’s the best possible day ever when you can watch three games of soccer and play a show in the evening,” Mumford said before jokingly introducing the song as one about soccer, catching himself laughing during the first few strums of the guitar before continuing the set.
Fans were given a preview of the next progression of the band’s sound when Mumford introduced South African singer Baaba Maal to join the band on stage to sing some cuts off their coming EP. Johannesburg, out on June 17, was recorded in the city of the same name over two sessions earlier this year and melds the band's sounds with the rhythms of Africa in a similar way Paul Simon did with Graceland.
As the main set came to a close, Mumford may have shocked security when he decided to jump off the stage and into the crowd, sprinting full speed around the arena floor and up the steps of the 100 level while a lone guard tried to catch up. Fans, perhaps just as in awe, finally realized what was happening and mobbed the singer who weaved around them to be lifted back onto the stage. It wouldn’t be the last time the band would take to the crowd.
When the lights came back on for the encore the band was now on a small stage behind the soundboard for an unplugged/acoustic version of “Cold Arms” more akin to their intimate club shows earlier in the group's career. It was almost like they were busking.
“This is a social experiment. This is going to be f**cking quiet so you’ve got to be f**cking quiet,” Mumford shouted, finding he’d have a difficult time quelling the verbosity of the enthusiastic crowd that took the silent moment to shower the singer with accolades.
The show capped off with another foot-stomping storm for the double shot of “I Will Wait” and “The Wolf.”
“We’re pretty sure Canada’s been one of the best countries we’ve ever played in,” said Mumford as a fan in the front of the pit handed him a Canadian Flag. “We promise if you come back, we’ll come back.”
As people poured out of the arena to be met by radio station Live 88.5 blasting the band’s songs, many stopped on route to busses, cars and cabs to continue to sing, showing that, should Mumford and Sons make their way back into town, the fans would most certainly be back too.
- Snake Eyes
- Little Lion Man
- Below My Feet
- Wilder Mind
- Lover of the Light
- Thompkins Square park
- Ghosts That We Knew
- Si tu veux (with Baaba Maal)
- There Will Be Time (with Baaba Maal)
- The Cave
- Dust Bowl Dance
- Cold Arms
- Hot Gates
- Wona (with Baaba Maal)
- I Will Wait
- The Wolf
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