Excitement’s a shared experience for band and its fans
CAMBRIDGE — Given the chance to hear Mumford & Sons on record versus live, you’re best to go with the latter. This British quintet makes what you could call communal indie rock; for every verse the group belts together in resplendent harmonies, there’s an even bigger chorus meant for a crowd to sing in tandem.
And that’s exactly what the revved-up audience did at Friday’s sold-out show at the Middle East Downstairs, one of several such stops on Mumford & Sons first headlining US tour. It’s easy to see why this band has caught fire so quickly in this country, namely because we already have similar acts — Fleet Foxes, the Avett Brothers — whose appeal hinges on a simple conceit: Life’s not so bad if you have someone to share it with.
Those comparisons to Fleet Foxes and the Avett Brothers, by the way, have dogged Mumford since its inception in late 2007. That’s because you really can hear echoes of those bands in the rustic and often shimmering roots rock that Mumford peddles so elegantly.
At least at the Middle East, there was one clear distinction: Mumford was missing some of the performance fireworks that have made the Avetts such a spectacle to behold live. “It’s Friday night in Boston — let’s have a good time,’’ frontman Marcus Mumford said more than once, as if the party had already ended and this was the after-hours portion of the evening. He was a gracious host, though, visibly moved by the infectious enthusiasm that rippled through the room.
A slow build was key to many of the songs, so that when they finally cracked wide open, the dynamics were more powerful than expected. It happened time and again, from the operatic climax of “Thistles & Weeds’’ to the blunt force of “Lover of the Light.’’
When the band wasn’t particularly virtuosic, it compensated by conveying deep wells of emotion on “Awake My Soul’’ and “Sigh No More,’’ the title track from its debut. And there was comforting catharsis in the singalong chorus of “Little Lion Man’’: “But it was not your fault but mine/ And it was your heart on the line/ I really [expletive] it up this time/ Didn’t I, my dear?’’
It was too bad the audience didn’t hold the same reverence for the opening band. From Australia, the Middle East (yes, performing at a venue with the same name) was right in line with Mumford & Sons’ heart-on-sleeve rock, but most of the crowd was too wrapped up in conversation to take note. Even Marcus Mumford noticed, playfully chiding the audience for being “naughty’’ and not listening, a problem his band certainly didn’t have.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.