Saturday, March 30, 2019

Unseen No More: At United Center, Mumford & Sons' 'Delta Tour' Proves Worth Taking a Flier -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Mumford & Sons
w/ opening act Cat Power
United Center, Chicago
March 29, 2019

My interest in seeing Mumford & Sons did not come naturally.

I don't mean that I was forced or coerced, nor was I invited or given a press pass.

It's that I wanted to see them--and went to their show Friday at the United Center--without ever having been that much of a fan.

I mean no disrespect, especially as I enjoyed their performance. But although I am old fogie who will still buy CDs--admittedly not that often anymore given a Spotify Premium account--I don't own any Mumford & Sons albums, and until studying up for the concert, knew relatively few songs.

But I love rock concerts, and perhaps even more holistically, the art of live performance. And over the past decade, as Mumford & Sons almost instantly became one of the world's biggest bands--the rock part somewhat came later--and has remained quite popular, people I respect have called them a great live act.

Though there are plenty of rock acts I love and see in concert repeatedly, many have been retiring or passing away, and there are relatively few I know replacing them. And I didn't come to truly love Arcade Fire--my favorite "modern" band by some margin--until I first saw them live in 2011.

Mumford & Sons sold out the United Center--all the way around, plus a general admission floor--when the show went on sale last year, but figuring this was an opportunity to check them off my list if nothing else, I bought a Club Level ticket just a few days ago for essentially face value. (This was Mumford's first arena show in Chicago, although I think they technically sold more tickets in playing at Montrose Beach in 2015.)

In Spotifamiliarizing myself with songs on recent setlists, and ultimately all four of their albums to date--including 2018's Delta, which seemed not so well-received by critics--I found myself liking enough songs sufficiently to genuinely anticipate a stellar show.

And I enjoyed it.

Seemingly not as much as many of the 23,000+ really exuberant white folks in attendance--Chicago singer Sharon Lewis, who guested on an encore of "Sweet Home Chicago" was literally the only person of color I saw all night, though to be fair the same can be said of other concerts I attend--but enough to be glad I went.

At least once, though for the right price in the right place, I'd consider a Mumford & Sons reprise.

After an opening set by Cat Power--the stage name of singer Chan Marshall--that I found solid if a bit too muted, and unlike other cities, devoid of any duets with Marcus Mumford, the headliners took the stage to the strains of Alan Parsons Project's "Sirius."

This is the song the Chicago Bulls have long used for introductions at the United Center, and while it may have seemed a tad opportunist for a British band to tie into the local sports scene, their Montrose Beach show in 2015 came just days after the Blackhawks won their last Stanley Cup and several team members brought it onstage, where the band members drank from it.

So I was tickled by the intro, which brought Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, Ted Dwayne and at least three touring musicians to a long, rectangular stage set in the middle of the UC floor.

They opened with Delta's fine "Guiding Light," but it was two songs from the band's 2009 debut, Sigh No More--"Little Lion Man" and "The Cave"--that, as the show's second and fourth songs, really got the crowd excited and singing along loudly.

Though I refrained from demonstrably gesticulating like the woman next to me, I could see why Mumford & Sons has such devotees, especially with Marcus making for a glib and amiable frontman.

They didn't blow me away on par with Arcade Fire, but for much of the show I thought @@@@1/2 (out of 5) might be an apt rating.

As you can see above, I settled on @@@@, as clocking in at just 93 minutes, I felt the show was not only somewhat brief, but at times rushed and even mechanical.

I thought it was a bit cheesy to tell the crowd to hold up their lit phones prior to "Believe"--shouldn't that be inspired, not instructed--and the rockers from 2015's Wilder Mind wrapped around it, "Tompkins Square Park" and "Ditmas," sounded like kinda good songs that don't have all that much depth too them. (Comparisons to Coldplay, at their more mundane, are apt.)

In the same vein, but better, was "The Wolf," which closed out the main set after a trio of album tracks from Delta: "Slip Away," which was really good, and two others that were more middling. (See the setlist here.)

The in-the-round stage worked fine even if it didn't add that much, and there were some nice lighting effects if well short of those employed by Arcade Fire, or Coldplay for that matter.

Marcus Mumford was predominantly the focal point, at one point running up into the seats, with banjo/guitarist Winston Marshall awash with smoke to open "Tompkins Square Park" the most overt moment for the Sons.

The four main members opened the encores around a single microphone in the lower level seats--on "Timshel"--before returning to the stage for "Awake My Soul."

In most recent cities, the encores have included a cover of Nine Inch Nails'--by way of Johnny Cash--"Hurt," which I would've been intrigued to hear, but we got the ebullient Lewis leading "Sweet Home Chicago."

Though the selection was rather routine, it was truly delectable, with Lewis sounding great and the band forced to rock out and improvise more than they had otherwise.

It was a great moment, but one that suggested that Mumford & Sons would benefit--well, at least to my perspective--from loosening up and breaking out of their comfort zone more often.

Another crowd-pleasing singalong on "I Will Wait"--from 2012's Babel--was undeniably joyous, though it was followed by the far more ponderous "Delta" to close the show.

For the record, Chicago got 2 fewer songs than most tour stops, though other than "Hurt" there wasn't anything I really missed. ("Babel" might've been nice as an audible.)

Still, the show could've done with another 20-30 minutes, perhaps not planned down to the T.

I understand that I didn't attend as the biggest Mumford & Sons and respect if the evening was far more emotionally rewarding for others.

The band is really good--and successful--at what they do, so who cares what I think.

But I feel they'd do well to mix--and stir--things up quite a bit more if they truly want to be considered a great band...and live act.

And to--perhaps--bring me back again.

Here's a taste of "Little Lion Man":

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