Wednesday, February 17th, 2010
Sigh No More
Mumford & Sons and Sunparlour Players at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
This question doesn’t just come from the fact that this band – whose debut album Sigh No More was only just released in North America yesterday and who were conducting this super-short, four-date North American tour without, at least to my knowledge, any major promotional push – had sold out Lee’s Palace, but had filled it not with curious musical passers-by, but raving, honest-to-god fans. Largely of the shrieking variety. Seriously, I had not seen Lee’s – or any venue – so packed and so unbelievably LOUD.
And so early. It was to the benefit of the openers that Mumford & Sons’ fanbase is punctual, because they got to ply their wares to a pretty full house and really, I couldn’t think of a better-suited local support act for Mumford than Sunparlour Players. Like the headliners, the duo are all about impassioned and rousing country-rock performed with remarkable musical dexterity, though the Sunparlour are considerably (and deliberately) rawer in execution – think moonshine versus whiskey. Either way, the audience ate it up and responded with huge and honest enthusiasm, and deservedly so – Sunparlour Players set the table with a killer set.
It’s not especially original by any stretch, but the phrase “bluegrass Beatles” crossed my mind later on in the evening as I tried to articulate what I witnessed with Mumford & Sons’ set. From the moment Ted Dwane carried his upright bass across the stage while they were still setting up until the end of the encore, the capacity crowd roared, shrieked and just went completely bonkers for the London quartet. And while I am incredulous about the fact that so many were so enthralled by them so early in their career – they certainly didn’t have that sort of fanbase when they first visited in October 2008 – that it’s happened really doesn’t surprise. If you accept that there’s been a heretofore untapped market for earnest, bluegrass/country-inspired indie rock, it’s hard to think of an outfit better positioned to exploit it than they. They’re handsome to a man with a distinctive, old-timey sartorial style; their banter is charming, witty and delivered with an English accent; their songs are sensitive, soaring and anthemic; their musicianship and vocal prowess ridiculously polished. To wit, there is no reason, in a just world, that Mumford & Sons wouldn’t be filling rooms the size of Lee’s if not larger with devoted fans, ready willing and able to sing along with every word. And yet to actually see it happen was wonderfully bizarre.
Even with so much going for them and the audience won over before they played a note, Mumford & Sons still had to deliver on the performance, and deliver they did. From the opening four-part harmonies of “Sigh No More”, it was clear they came to play. Their set covered most (all?) of Sigh No More, rendered perfectly with the crescendos lifting spirits and the quiet passages breaking hearts and the omnipresent kick drum propelling it all forward. The also aired out three new songs which didn’t stray far from their formula but held to more conventional rock band arrangements – at one point, they were kitted out with electric guitar, electric bass, keys and drums; completely standard for almost any other band but strangely alien on them. Perhaps most memorable was the first song of their encore, wherein the four of them played unamplified from the edge of the stage. Not an unusual move in acoustically gifted venues, but the first time I’d seen it pulled at Lee’s Palace and, of course, they did it masterfully. A show like this one couldn’t have ended any other way.
Photos: Mumford & Sons, Sunparlour Players @ Lee’s Palace – February 15, 2010
MP3: Sunparlour Players – “Battle Of ’77”
MP3: Sunparlour Players – “Shake & Bake For Goodness-Sake”
Video: Mumford & Sons – “The Cave”
Video: Mumford & Sons – “Winter Winds”
Video: Mumford & Sons – “Little Lion Man”
MySpace: Mumford & Sons
Clash chats with Field Music while Drowned In Sound takes a track by track tour through their new album (Measure), which you can follow along with thanks to MBV Music, who are streaming the album right now. They’re at The Horsesehoe on March 19.
Stream: Field Music / (Measure)