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Last Night: Mumford & Sons, The Middle East at House of Blues' Cambridge Room

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Mumford & Sons, The Middle East
House of Blues' Cambridge Room
June 10, 2010

Better than: being at the show that was taking place in the House of Blues' main hall. The Wonder Girls? Really?

Inside of the sold-out Cambridge Room at the House of Blues on Thursday night, there was little room for moving and wiggling about. Or, for that matter, for negativity.

Thanks to joyous, remarkable sets from Australian opening act The Middle East and the headliners, England's Mumford & Sons, smiles and boisterous cheers outnumbered any complaints about the heat and cramped quarters.

Starting off the evening, The Middle East--which has had a rather distinct North Texas presence over the last three months--executed a textbook version of the ramshackle style that might best be described as bandcamp-core. While employing seven musicians, the band rocked out on a variety of non-traditional rock instrumentation, including trumpet, flute, accordion, an amazing array of seemingly homemade, percussion-oriented noisemakers and, yes indeed, a whistle. Not a coach's whistle, though--a human, mouth-whistle. That oft-ignored instrument was used to a melodically rousing degree during the band's signature song, "Blood," one of the seven songs the band told the crowd that it was scheduled to play.

And play they did.

After informing the audience that this stop was to be their last show opening for Mumford & Sons after a month of dates together, the collective closed their set by delving into a slowly surging song that was introduced as being "about missing home." The group then channeled their longing for a place more familiar into a stirring performance that elicited heartier cheers than most opening acts are likely to enjoy on a regular basis.

Then it was time to bring out the band that has sold-out just about every stop on their current U.S. tour.

For a country that will soon be rooting against England and their World Cup team, last night was a chance for Dallas-area U.S. supporters to embrace two signature British exports--charm and superb, folk-based song craft.

(The key phrase being "folk-based." Because, really, this wasn't a folk show.)

Thanks to Mumford & Sons' lead man, Marcus Mumford, both smashing, English traits were on obvious display and the four-piece band--which, by no means, is the acoustic, string band many have tried to label it as--huddled near the lip of the relatively low-setting stage, with a keyboard, upright bass, pedal steel and banjo, all in a straight horizontal row. They opened with "Sigh No More," which happens to be both the title track and opening number to their breakthrough LP.

What followed was an absolute, mushy love fest of the highest order. With positivity radiating, the adoring crowd seemed to embolden the humbled band, and, in turn, the devotion from the audience was reciprocated in the form of some fine, unhinged and resplendent, musical moments.

During the course of the slightly over an hour-long set--which was the band's first ever in Dallas--Mumford and gang (his mates really aren't his sons, you now) veered away from the known variables of their buzzed-about record only briefly. At the mid-point of their set, Mumford stepped to the back of the stage to claim a seat behind the drum kit as he introduced a new song, the piano, drum and electric guitar-intensive "Lover of the Light."

Other moments also scored high marks. Thanks to the inclusion of the F-bomb, "Little Lion Man" is a whale of a sing-along tune--and last night, there was an angry energy that enrobed the song.  The raucous momentum continued with "The Cave," and, the tune proved to be downright goosebump-inducing as Mumford was shouting the chorus with the piano being banged wildly behind him. The group's scruffy harmony sung in "Timeshel" was more an exercise in the group supporting one another through solidarity, and not simply a display of honey-kissed vocal prowess. 

When The Middle East bounded onto the stage to join in during the climax of "Roll Away Your Stone," they seemed to have eight different types of rattles and general items to keep rhythmic time with, and the departing tour mates provided the song with a loving commotion that cast a spirit of triumph into the crowd that was already feeling triumphant.

Live, Mumford & Sons' rock outweighed folk by an immense proportion, love overpowered hate, and sweeping, sing-along choruses were as plentiful as the chants of "U.S.A! U.S.A!" were when Mumford brought up the topic of the impending World Cup match between England and the U.S..

As it turns out, Mumford was, perhaps unwittingly, discussing the land of his birth and home, and the land that wishes it could claim him.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Earlier this week, Noah Bailey detailed his special experience at the Neil Young show, and how he was there as a fan, first and foremost. While, obviously, Mumford & Sons aren't anywhere near the level of Young, there were many points last night where it was almost impossible not to be swept up in the fun--regardless of whether I was there to review the show.

Random Note: When the band made attempts to gain cheers during a bit of in-between song banter, one band member asked about the Mavericks--and the crowd laughed and even booed. When Mumford proceeded to ask what the audience thought of T.O., boos became rather substantial. Funny enough, he then shouted the name, "Dirk Nowitzki," and the crowd went nuts with applause. Got that? Mavericks = T.O.; Dirk > his own team. We knew all that already, though.

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