GRAEME THOMSON GIG OF THE WEEK
SSE Hydro, Glasgow Touring until Sat
On their last album, Wilder Mind, Mumford & Sons underwent an accelerated industrial revolution, downing the tools of agrarian struggle to embrace the instruments of mass pop production – drum machines, synthesisers, electric guitars – with a convert’s fervour.
New album Delta continues this rather self-conscious plunge into progress, with penny-farthing tunes shackled to turbo-charged engines. If technology is meant to offer freedom from toil, you do wonder why Delta is such hard work. The material gathers a little more momentum on stage, though never quite enough.
Perhaps we should be thankful they’re here at all. It was announced on the morning of the Glasgow concert that the band had cancelled four British dates due to the ‘logistical challenges’ of staging this show. What sounds on paper like a coded excuse makes sense up close. The stage is vast and remarkable. Something resembling HMS Victory is anchored in the heart of the arena. A lowered central deck constitutes the main performing area, flanked by two B-stages at bow and stern. When the lighting rig descends during The Wild to form a roof, the band appear to be serenading us from The Ark. It’s an impressive space that at times this incongruously upgraded folk troupe are unsure how to fill. With no video screens and minimalist lighting, the spectacle doesn’t always grip the way it might.
Performing in the round, Marcus Mumford works hard to satisfy everyone – hopping behind the drums, joshing about football scores, jumping on the monitors to exhort the crowd to dance, more in hope than expectation. He’s a lively captain, and just as well. The rest of his crew are graduates from the Coldplay School of Anonymity.
On Tompkins Square Park and If I Say, the brooding, widescreen electro-folk soundscape finally pulls into sharp focus. The Wolf is an appreciably primal howl. Too often, however, lacklustre new material is left in the dust by animated old glories such as Little Lion Man, Babel and I Will Wait, the whirling hayloft stomps that persuaded everyone from Avicii to James Blunt to embrace the banjo. Better still are the moments when the group gather on the upper deck to perform acoustically. Ghosts That We Knew envelops the arena in a gentle wash of double bass, fiddle and fraternal harmony. For encores of Timshel and Sister, they cluster around a single microphone, four upscale Londoners tuned into the Old Time Appalachian Radio Hour. For the most part, though, Mumford & Sons are 21st-century boys these days. You can’t help but wonder if they are playing against their strengths. mumfordandsons.com