Mumford and Son’s Portsmouth leg of their ‘Gentlemen of the Road’ tour can be summarised by the atmosphere in the venue just before they came on. The Guildhall was buzzing with excited fans from literally every age group; and they were all there to see some farmers pluck a banjo and yell about ‘holding on’. The venue was the place to be, with its intimate nature really emphasising how big the band have become. Judging by the reaction to this gig, it doesn’t seem likely that there will be many more, if any, opportunities, to see Mumford anywhere smaller than a stadium after this tour.
Support act Dawes (pronounced Dars, as they would have you know) ran a competent set in a similar folk-esque vein to Mumford. Often, the band’s songs fell straight into the middle lane, with lyrics that ranged from the nostalgic and cliché such as (‘Time Spent In Los Angeles’), to the frankly cringe (‘It’s a little bit of everything’ fired out the devastating couplet of ‘So pile on those mashed potatoes, And an extra chicken wing’). Despite this, the band often came into their own, and seemed deserving of the golden support slot that many bands would kill for, for example, the philosophically driven ‘When my time comes’ was sublime, and its combination of a sing along chorus with smart lyrics was received rapturously by the audience.
The first hour of Mumford’s set was packed full of hits; the band storming through ‘Babel’, ‘I Will Wait’ and ‘Winter Winds’ within the first four songs. The pastoral-themed crowd clearly loved it, being given exactly what they wanted to hear. All this early excitement ultimately served to do was raise the question of whether the band could keep up the momentum throughout the whole set. Luckily, they did more than keep it up and the gig seemed to increase in quality right until the very end. The wide variety of high-quality album tracks that the band possess in their canon were played with such passion and perfection that the high spirits never faltered. Along with established tracks such as ‘Little Lion Man’ and ‘Dust Bowl Dance’, a notable highlight was new track ‘Broken Crown’, with its menacing lyrics and instrumentation silencing the, often annoyingly talkative, audience.
As a band, Mumford and Sons held the stage well, not over performing to, but at same time not ignoring, their audience. Marcus Mumford’s vocals were crisp and, to quote the middle-aged woman stood next to me, “just like the record”. It’s a testament to the band that they didn’t have to rely on onstage trickery to engage their audience; the subtly decorated stage with light bulbs and candles and stuff worked well as an accompanying background to the music rather than distracting one from it.
The band came back to play a two song encore of ‘Sigh No More’ and ‘The Cave’. This was undoubtedly the highlight of the night, with the latter engaging even the ‘I paid 30 quid to see if it was possible to literally stand in the same spot completely still without changing my expression throughout the whole gig’ types. Support Band Dawes and the ‘comedian’ Piff the Magic Dragon also came on at some point, successfully setting the world record for most on-stage plaid.
Overall, this was a near-perfect performance from a band who should be recognised for still playing such intimate English venues when their new album sold 600,000 copies within its first week of American release. As long as the band continues to create engaging, anthemic songs, their live-gigs will always be a treat, this show being the proof of that.