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Review: Mumford and Sons at Gexa Energy Pavilion

Posted 11:44pm on Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013

Somewhere along the way, Mumford and Sons became a punchline.

At some point, between the group’s first and second records, they became derisive shorthand for the hipper-than-thou, an easy way to illustrate just how lame, contrived and overly precious this whole folk revival has become.

Granted, Marcus Mumford and his bandmates bring some of the grief on themselves — and there was ample evidence of their pretension Wednesday night at Gexa Energy Pavilion: lights strung about as if the concert happened to be taking place in someone’s backyard; an insistence on the video screens flanking the stage displaying the action largely in sepia tones and geeking out over guest banjo player (and former Cadillac Sky member) Matt Menefee.

Yet, for all the snide remarks, shade-throwing and self-inflicted wounds, the Mumford juggernaut, if Wednesday’s show is any indicator, has not slowed. (This show was a make-up for a June postponement, when bassist Ted Dwane suffered a blood clot on his brain, which required surgery.)

The British foursome has accumulated a few more trophies (including, in February, a Grammy for album of the year) and released another album (2012's Babel) since its last spin through town.

They've graduated to larger venues (the band's last gig here was at the House of Blues three years ago), and acquired an impressive stage, too, jammed full of flashing, blinking and strobing lights that seemed to never stop moving.

Over the course of a roughly 105-minute set, which keyboardist Ben Lovett said was the next-to-last of the current tour, making Wednesday a “huge celebration,” Mumford and Sons, augmented by six musicians (that number expanded and contracted over the course of the show) demonstrated precisely why they engender such fierce loyalty — and so many detractors.

Mixing brooding and boisterous moods, often in the same song, Mumford and Sons are modern masters of the arena-rousing anthem (see smash hits Little Lion Man and I Will Wait, both of which earned ecstatic roars), as well as whisper-roar ballads ( Lover of the Light, say, or maybe Beneath My Feet).

The problem is that, after four or five songs, the Mumford and Sons catalog blurs together, feeling like the same tune, simply presented in ever-so-slightly-different ways. (And not just live; Babel feels like a near-carbon copy of Sigh No More.) They aren’t helped by the lyrics — elliptical, romantic or bleak; often all three — which aim for poetry but often miss.

It's the one thing impossible to defend the band against: homogeneity.

Occasionally, a vivid moment stands out — the almost-punk finale for the main set, Dust Bowl Dance, saw Mumford kicking over part of the drum kit and throwing his microphone to the ground — but those moments, full of dynamism and reminiscent of another popular punching bag, Coldplay, are few.

However, the band's effect on its audience is often powerful — more than once Wednesday, the crowd was singing along in full voice, swaying with hands outstretched as though a tent revival was underway. If adoration of a band could be a tangible thing, Mumford and Sons fans come closest to having it.

So then, who is the joke on, really?

Mumford and Sons are exceptional musicians, proficient on multiple instruments (Mumford himself sat behind the drum kit and, pun semi-intended, didn’t miss a beat) and with vocal harmonies that lock together like tumblers in a vault door. They do their jobs well, with sincerity, earnestness and a brio that's refreshing.

And perhaps that's it, in this post-ironic age, that a band capable of filling massive spaces, singing new songs that feel old and which has an appeal freely slicing across demographic boundaries is an affront. How dare they appear genuine and capable?

So let the haters rage — while they lash out, Mumford and Sons is having the last laugh.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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