Mumford & Sons | The 02 Arena 18.12.12
There is a strange paradox in Mumford & Sons headlining the 02. A band so associated with – and vilified for – their connection with the antique, the historic and the backwards doesn’t naturally fit alongside the cavernous modern mecca of corporate entertainment sitting on the bank of the river Thames. As well as the main feature, with tonight’s support coming courtesy of the now-Americana-dust-inspired Mystery Jets and water-from-the-well folkists Bear’s Den, the evening possesses a bizarre meshing of concrete and glass, and tweed and beaten leather. The folk revival that started with Noah and the Whale, Jonny Flynn and Laura Marling back in 2006 has now all but run out of venues big enough to confine them and Mumford & Sons, with their transatlantic super-powers, have become its most valuable export.
You can see why too. From the moment the curtain ascends up into the roof, revealing the four men standing side-by-side along the front of the stage, it’s clear that no matter how intricate the guitar or banjo, these are songs that get the young London audience bouncing in the same way as Guetta, Minaj and their arena (soft) rock forefathers, Coldplay, do. Babel’s lead single is dispatched within minutes of arriving on-stage, ensuring the pandemonium lasts pretty much the entire evening. It’s followed by ‘Winter Winds’, which cranks up the volume again and presents a theme throughout the evening of sheer abandonment when anything from Sigh No More gets an outing.
Within the booming walls of such a spacious venues, the songs that call the largely uninspiring Babel home make more sense. ‘Holland Road’ sounds glorious, ‘Below My Feet’ absolutely imperial. The jubilant ‘Lover of the Light’ – one of a few numbers that Mumford sits behind the drum kit for – becomes the epic, propulsive cornerstone of the set. All the while voices scream, fists pump, smartphones are held aloft and iPads film.
When things do get a little quieter, such as during the beautiful’ Timshel’ or the now-obligatory mini-stage acoustic set, you hear that what pins this group together throughout – whether hollering or harmonising – is their ability to bring joy through the sound of just four men singing together. They stomp, they jig and they swap instruments more often than the Towie cast do STI’s, but it’s always brought back to the singing. And it will rarely leave you unaffected.
While stopping a few notches short of a masterclass, it’s clear that Mumford & Sons are not daunted by the world’s larger stages and they have in their arsenal an almost perfect mix of arena-filling chest-beaters and introverted cosier numbers. It’s perhaps not unsurprising then to hear their name linked with a Glastonbury headline slot. Tonight they conquered the concrete and glass and you’d be a fool to bet against them doing the same in the mud and the rain.