Mumford and Sons are pretty much responsible for the popularity of what I call ‘folk pop’. Of Monsters and Men? Mumford and Sons. Vance Joy? Mumford and Sons.  The Lumineers? Mumford and Sons. That Australian YouTuber who recently got really big? Well, that was because of Taylor Swift repping him, but also Mumford and Sons for legitimising the genre of music he plays in a pop landscape. But as beloved as those other groups are (you may remember Of Monsters and Men as headliners of this year’s Splendour in the Grass and Vance Joy as, well, Vance Joy), nothing can beat the original. So say the ten thousand or so people surrounding me right now, wearing merch of any of the previous acts I mentioned. The banners have been hung up, the logo for their newest album proud on display.

Let this be a warning: the next few paragraphs are going to near exclusively be about a gyrating 40–something year old man. See, the supports for this show are Future Islands, one of the breakout acts of last year. For the most part this is because of frontman Samuel T. Herring and his enrapturing stage presence. Perhaps you’ve seen the now infamous Letterman performance of their airy pop hit ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’ where he seems to slide about as if he’s made of oil. That isn’t just a temporary thing, an act for television or the internet. From the moment he comes out starts getting into his zone, doing his best belly dancer impression which honestly seems levels above actual belly dancers. Perhaps it would be better instead to show you all what I mean. Let me present to you the rubberiness of Samuel T. Herring.

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It helps that the music is this perfect mix of pounding drums and floaty synths, leading the crowd to taking on their own loving and increasingly ridiculous attempts at dancing. The grass underfoot seemed to shake with the stomping and sliding of feet. It’s a strange pairing that sees Mumford and Sons together with the synth pop group, but as the audience laps up the performance it’s surely a relief to those who took the risk in the putting the two together. As they leave the stage, cheers echo through the amphitheatre, echoing down to the floor. A celebration will surely catch on backstage after the show. But for now, the headline must go on.

I cannot help but stare at the crowd as the band comes onstage. There’s a wave of realisation as those at the front catch a glimpse and grab the attention of those at the back. The rumblings slowly switch over to the twinklings of an acoustic guitar, and the cheers are deafening. The song is ‘Snake Eyes’, an offering of their newest album, but abandoned are the electric instruments that dotted the landscape. Instead it’s reworked, recreated for the biggest draw of the band. I am talking, of course, of the dramatic singalongs. Which is why it comes as no surprise to find ‘Little Lion Man’ is the next up and honestly, it was beautiful. The band slowed down so that every line landed like a punch, though the crowd would have been hooked even if the guitar was covered by a wall of gain. Watching everyone – the lawn, the stands, the floor – chant along with the verse was one thing but the chorus. It’s impossible not to get chills down your spine hearing the now iconic ‘I really fucked it up this time, didn’t I my dear?’ sung from so many bodies, young, old, manbunned and un–manbunned, all united in this moment. There is definitely a person in among those bodies who is having a life changing experience right now.

It was no mean feat for Mumford and Sons to breakout into the pop landscape featuring an instrument that at that point conjured up images of one of the most terrifying films in history and it speaks mountains of them for it. Throughout the night they tear into audience favourites ‘The Cave’ and ‘Believe’, but the true moments come from when they bring down the walls between band and audience. At one point they are almost inaudible over the cheers as they crowd around the centre mic for an acoustic rendition of ‘Cold Arms’. It’s the passion that the audience extracts from those songs that put them on the map. It’s not surprising that there have been so many imitators, but there is only one Mumford and Sons.

Bee Spence

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