Mumford & Sons, The Middle East @ The Music Box 06/03/10
It was a night of new beginnings at the Music Box (formerly the Henry Fonda Theater) on Thursday night. The revamped theater sparkled with all the seduction of a private night club. The walls newly painted with woodland creatures and nymphs and the foyer draped with golden lamps. What better place for two fresh new bands who are both riding those fickle waves of critical success to play? Both The Middle East and Mumford & Sons are enveloped in that golden halo of achievement that only comes when your first release is received well. It's before (heaven forbid) your sophomore disk slumps and the drugs problems become too much and the inner band fighting destroys everything. But there's this amazing moment when bands get it right and it seems like nothing could possibly stand in their way. That is what Thursday night was all about, and it was gorgeous.
The Middle East was up first with their nine piece band. It seems as though that every person on that stage could play every instrument just as well as their band mates. For each song, people would grab new instruments. The mandolin player became the accordion player, who became the guitarist, who would take turns as the trumpet player. I mean, by the end I hadn't a clue who actually specialized in what. Even singing duties were passed off between three front men and everyone who was near a microphone sang harmony. The result was the sort of orchestra folk that is nearly impossible to put your finger on. The Middle East infuse all of their lyrics with elaborate stories, the kind that the Decemberists would be proud of. This band could so easily have been passed over as too "experimental" but the crowd at the Box loved every moment of their intricate set.
However the reception the Middle East got was like a limp handshake compared to the all out lovefest that was showered down upon Mumford & Sons when they took the stage. These four lads from West London were welcomed by the sold out crowd like long lost brothers. And why not? These Brits had perfected the Americana sound better than most American folk bands. They even looked like they had stepped off a farm in Iowa, sporting plaid shirts and cutoff denim jackets. In fact the only thing that signaled to anyone that they were British was their on stage banter.
"How did you like the Middle East? We think we're better and they're dickheads." joked lead singer Marcus Mumford, who immediately got worried we had taken him seriously. "Americans don't seem to get get British sarcasm. We just come off as bitter." No one in the place had any worries about such culture clashes because the minute the first note of "Sigh No More" was played the place was electrified. Honest to God, I've never seen a crowd at the Music Box freak out and start foot stomping to the beat. And it didn't let up. Every single song was greeted with what seemed like surprise and delight. It turned into a hootenanny in five seconds flat, with beautiful harmonies, lightning fast banjo picking, and constant hand clapping.
And why not? In an age where music can travel as fast as the speed of light and kids in Bulgaria can be influenced by Brazilian samba and kids in Brooklyn are being influenced by Afro beats, isn't it wonderful that these London boys can throw a hootenanny in Los Angeles? As much as the internet has been demonized as taking down the music business, it has also fostered some pretty amazing musical conglomerations. Mumford & Sons are further proof that if you tap into the kind of music you like, no matter where you're from, if it moves you, people will feel that and respond in kind.