By Roy Trakin.
Previewing their upcoming album, Wilder Mind (which arrives via Glassnote Records May 4) with what self-effacing singer/guitarist Marcus Mumford promised was “a bunch of songs you’ve never heard before… a glorified rehearsal,” the band’s core four – Mumford, lead guitarist Winston Marshall, bassist Ted Dwane and keyboardist Ben Lovett – was joined by drummer Chris Mass and violinist/guitarist Tom Hebden of Noah and the Whale for the occasion, the second of a pair of not-so-“secret” shows at the venerable Sunset Strip venue.
Aside from not knowing the songs, the star-studded assemblage – gathered by Daniel Glass, including UMG boss Lucian Grainge and TV luminary Jimmy Kimmel, among others – were required to leave their cell phones at the door, which made it possible to allow the 11 songs (out of 12 on the album) performed in a little less than an hour – to wash over and make their maximum impact.
With the most famed plugging-in since Dylan at Newport, the Mumfords still maintained their narrative thrust and joined harmonies, but this time without those darned banjos or stand-up bass, Marcus commandeering the group with a thunderous sound that electrified their roots into something resembling a post-punk hootenanny. “It’s great to be in Los Angeleeez,” he drawled by way of introduction. “Whatcha been doing?”
Joking at one point that the band’s 18 months away from the stage has caused his “banter to get rusty,” at one point admonishing himself not to make comments about “pedophilia” after revealing the band were “having a good time” with young people at Princeton in response to an audience shout-out, Marcus was loose, but the sound coming out of the band was anything but, with elements of The Band, U2, The Grateful Dead and the Stones mingling easily together.
The new, Coldplay-esque single, “Believe,” the ferocious, ghostly blues of “Monster,” “Tompkins Square Park” and “Ditmas,” the latter two referring to the album’s New York origins, seemed to emerge from the pack, while the encore, “The Wolf,” epitomized the band’s patented whisper-to-a-scream approach on steroids. And while it’s certainly risky to abandon a musical style that has catapulted them to the upper reaches of the arena-rock universe, Wilder Mind also fulfills the promise of a third album to challenge the existing fan base and raise the stakes.
Given the enthusiasm of an audience – made up in equal parts of diehard loyalists and show-me industry heavyweights — it would appear Mumford & Sons have made a winning gamble.