Gig Review: Mumford And Sons @ The Palace, 29th July

“You have been more kind to us than anywhere else, so from all of us thank you so much for that” – Marcus Mumford

Last Thursday, in the lead up to their (spiritual) headline performance at Splendour In The Grass, Mumford And Sons played a medium-scale sold out gig to an absolutely adoring crowd at The Palace in Melbourne. It was clear that in the crowd’s eyes they could do absolutely nothing wrong, and this reflected in how relaxed their performance was: they were truly in their element, and put on a show worth remembering.

But, before they graced the stage, there were two support acts, both of whom were also preparing to play at Splendour In The Grass.

First up was Boy And Bear. This growth of these guys has been absolutely astronomical. I remember seeing them play at the Homebake Festival last year in their first major gig, where they looked a bit out of their depth however still thoroughly entertained a small tent of punters. And now here they were at The Palace, opening for Mumford And Sons, and doing a pretty great job of it.

Surprisingly they also seemed very relaxed, even though The Palace was close to capacity at this point. The reception greeting their arrival was massive, showing that they were more than just bill-fillers- they were a genuine attraction of the gig for this crowd.

Their set was short and enjoyable. It was headlined with the brilliant Rabbit Song, which got the entire crowd ‘Ooooh’ing and ‘Aaah’ing along with the band, who looked to be having the time of their lives. The Storm, an old Unearthed favourite, was greeted very warmly, and a cover of Bon Iver’s Flume was a delightful surprise.

This song demonstrated, as did much of Boy And Bear’s set, that when this band harmonise three or four vocalists, they can make some truly stunning music. There was something remarkable about the way they pulled off Bon Iver with their harmonising vocals, when Justin Vernon made his name based on sparse arrangements and minimalism. This cover did justice to the song, and this in itself is an achievement

After thanking the crowd for the very positive response they received, the band broke into an initially unrecognisable song that turned out to be a seriously revamped version of the older favourite Mexican Mavis. It was a very interesting arrangement, starting out with a more rock n’ roll refrain before breaking into the more recognisable finger-picked guitar and “As she came out of the sunshine, the flowers glistened in her hair”, which was sung by many people in the crowd.

This was the fourth time I have seen Boy And Bear live I believe, and it is a testament to them that they have grown in leaps and bounds every single time. These guys are going to be massive, if they aren’t already, and they clearly have friends in high places in the form of Mumford And Sons.

Next was fellow Splendour artists Alberta Cross. They were a bit of a strange choice for a Mumford And Sons support act to be honest, with a sound far removed from the other two acts of the night. A distinct lack of banter, monotone vocals, and repetitive songs characterised what was a very underwhelming beginning to their set.

Their set started to pick up with some limited banter, a pretty enjoyable ‘gospel’ song, and a great song to close, however just as I was finally starting to enjoy Alberta Cross they were finished. There is no escaping that they were a strange choice for this slot, and I don’t think their performance did much to sway me or many others in the crowd from the belief that there were many smaller Australian bands that would have been much better suited to this show.

By the time Alberta Cross finished, The Palace was completely packed. I was situated very nicely a few rows from the front and towards the middle of the stage, even though there were a couple of unreasonably tall people in front of me. You could already tell just how much this crowd loved Mumford and Sons, however thankfully it was also a very respectfully crowd, resisting (for the most part) to push towards the front. This, along with the rather wonderful music played over the PA system (including Beach House and The Morning Benders), made for a relatively enjoyable wait for the band we were all here to see.

Greeted with an absolutely deafening roar, Mumford And Sons took to the stage. Their stage setup was perfect for a venue like The Palace, with all four members spread out equally at the very front of the stage, lending itself to a balanced and equal sound. It was impossible for Ted, Winston, Marcus, and Ben to hide their smiles as they humbly thanked the crowd for the response and broke into their first song.

It was, of course, Sigh No More. This is the perfect opening song, building from slow beginning to the wonderful refrain of “Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be”. These words were sung by every single person in the massive crowd, stretching over three levels, and it was a magical moment to be a part of.

Seeing Mumford And Sons without technical problems was such a relief, after speaker outages plagued their Laneway set. The sound in The Palace was absolutely perfect, filling the venue and reverberating off the walls just enough to create a very full sound without too much echo. As my first gig at The Palace, this was very impressive.

Awake My Soul got the good ol’ folkmosh started, and it was a lot of fun. What other band in the world could you see, as part of a sold out crowd, perform a hoedown? Roll Away Your Stone was as enjoyable as ever, with the wonderful line of “But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works”, which had heralded the return of speaker power at Laneway.

In typical Mumford And Sons style however, the banter was honestly nearly as enjoyable as the music. You can’t help but get the impression when watching them perform that this is a band that genuinely has fun together, and are really good friends. Marcus joked that “You guys are much better than last night,” before adding sheepishly that “Of course I said that last night as well”. Yeah, he was as effortlessly charming as always.

“Australia has embraced us more warmly than anywhere else in the world,” said Marcus genuinely, and I believed him when he and the other band members echoed their appreciation for what has been an overwhelming response to their music in Australia. He then went on to describe the venue as like a “wedding cake,” gesturing towards the two balconies above the ground floor.

Whenever the banter went for a bit too long however the crowd kept the band honest, with one person yelling out light-heartedly “Play a fucking song” in response to Marcus’ question of “What do you want to talk about?”. “Yeah, too right, play a fucking song,” Marcus agreed.

And so they did. Winter Winds was a wonderful addition to their set that had been missing at Laneway. As well as favourites from their debut album, Mumford And Sons’ set was littered with a brief selection of new songs. Thankfully these weren’t the downers that new songs can sometimes be, and in fact one new song, Lover Of The Light, was my highlight of the night. It is a powerhouse of a folk song, featuring Marcus going gradually more and more mental on a drumkit (is there anything he can’t do?). This song is going to be a massive hit, and witnessing it in its infancy was great.

Just when you thought the gig couldn’t get any more special, Marcus announced that the band would be playing a song the band had written just earlier that day, that had never been played live before. The fact that this really was a new song was understood when the band had to tune their instruments for it, which gave them the chance to show off their skills: “Look, I can tune my instrument and talk to you at the same time. Not many people can do that”. When asked what they should call the song, one (very) drunken punter yelled out “CALL IT ANNABELLE,” to which Marcus replied bluntly “We’re not calling it Annabelle you fucking idiot,” much to the delight of the crowd. Later he would tell the same person “You’re trouble, you are. Security! Just joking. But really.”

As much as the boys liked to joke about how the song was crap, it was in fact spectacular, and created a serenely tranquil atmosphere in The Palace. Marcus pointed out how the band trialled new songs by playing them live, and that we were all now a part of the new record they have in the works. Marcus had specifically requested people turn off their cameras for this song, so as to allow it to live in this moment and not be captured for the many eyes of the internet. Of course, a couple of people refused to abide by this one simple request. Very very poor form.

Little Lion Man was of course played at one point or another, but you don’t need me to tell you much about how that was, you’ve heard it all before. It got the folkmosh to a new level, and singing every word was completely enjoyable (“You all sound amazing”), but this was far from a one-song set.

The boys went on to play much of the remainder of their debut album in their main set, with highlights including White Blank Page and the epic Dust Bowl Dance. The banter didn’t die down either, with Ted and Winston insulting each other repeatedly in very humourous ways (“Ted doesn’t even know what key this next song is in, listen out for that… he was shit last night, but he’s showing promise- he has potential”), and Marcus told the crowd how excited he had been last night when he thought he saw Rolf Harris in the crowd, before realising that it was a woman.

The band eventually departed the stage for an encore break, with the set already tipping an hour in length. What followed was an absolutely deafening stamping from the floor crowd which brought the band back in no time to finish their set with one of my favourite songs of theirs, After The Storm, followed by the always popular The Cave which finished the night with a good healthy folkmosh.

There was something very special about this gig. It is amazing seeing a band so much in their element; so utterly and completely comfortable, and so happy just to be performing to such an adoring crowd. Likewise there was something special about the sheer unconditional adoration pouring out from the crowd to the band. The combination of these two things, along with some great music and memorable banter, made for a very enjoyable night indeed.

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