Concerts Concerts Mumford and Sons Perform for Adoring Fans at First Canadian Headlining Show

Mumford and Sons Perform for Adoring Fans at First Canadian Headlining Show

Mumford & Sons at Lee's Palace Mumford and Sons
Lee's Palace in Toronto, ON
February 15, 2010

Review by: Jen Polk
Photos by: Amanda Fotes

Early this year a friend turned me onto London, UK's Mumford and Sons. Their 2009 (in the UK) album, Sigh No More, placed at number 50 on Hype Machine's aggregate list of top albums for that year, and the site had the full stream. So I listened. About 10 seconds in I knew it was a winner. It has since become my most listened to album. I'm obsessed with it. And I'm not the only one.

The band was in town last Monday night as part of a short North American jaunt that included just this one Canadian date. Lee's Palace that night was, to put it mildly, complete and utter insanity. I got there just shy of 9:00pm, and the 450+ person capacity venue was already nearly full. I quickly made my way toward the front, and then just as quickly got stuck four rows back. (No one in front of me moved from then until the end of the show two and a half hours later. Not to get a beer, not to go to the washroom, not for a smoke break, not for anything.) The women behind me and to my left were chattering away excitedly, discussing the relationship status of the various band members.

Wait. What? Yeah, serious. This London band's appearance was being, uh, hotly anticipated. But first, local openers Sunparlour Players.

Sunparlour Players

This is a band I've seen a few times, with the experience ranging from amazing to just alright. Friday night they — Andrew Penner and Michael "Rosie" Rosenthal sans Dennis Van Dine — were on fire. Doning matching black suits and drenched in sweat, Penner and Rosenthal's hard hitting country and gospel was the perfect musical accompaniment to what was to come. Rosenthal, responsible for a variety of instruments, usually all at the same time, has got to have the best performance face in the business. I wish I could show you what I mean. It's like every note gets an expression. I love it. He and Penner performed songs from 2006's Hymns For the Happy and last year's Wave North, including wonderful renditions of "If the Creeks Don't Rise," "Battle of '77," "Dyin' Today," and a rousing "John Had A Bell and A Whistle" to close out the set. Most people in the audience were paying attention, as evidenced by appreciative clapping, but during the quieter moments it was clear that not everyone was. The talkers around me spend the majority of Sunparlour Players' set discussing the next band. By the end, though, even they had stopped yammering. After a great 8-song set, the crowd cheered loudly. I noticed too that some of the Mumford men were looking on from the green room above the stage, clearly as impressed as I was. Later on Mumford and Sons' lead singer Marcus Mumford commented that the duo had "got me so in the mood to play a show. They were amazing."

Mumford and Sons

If Sunparlour Players have a slightly grisled persona, the attractive Londoners who make up Mumford and Sons most certainly do not. Their a cappella bluegrass with modern sensibilities — think Fleet Foxes, The Wilderness of Manitoba, and Great Lake Swimmers — sounds like it should be performed by older men. Coming on stage amid shrieks of excitement, the band started with the album opener, "Sigh No More." Audience members sang (read: screamed) along, and the band seemed pleased. As the set continued, the screams only got louder and the band more wide-eyed at the reception they were getting. Everybody around me knew all the words to "Awake My Soul," performed next, and the same with "Little Lion Man" and "White Blank Page." Crazy! The set included a few new songs, and while the women (and men) in my vicinity didn't know the words to those, the cheers at the end of the performances were hardly less enthusiastic than the ones that greeted more familiar tunes. Even minor sound issues that plagued the band throughout their set didn't dampen the mood. Mumford and his three bandmates were genuinely surprised at the reception they were getting. Great performances of "Timshel," "Thistle and Weeds," and "I Gave You All" were interspersed by banter that went over well with the crowd. "The Cave" earned loud, long cheering. As if trying to calm the masses, the barn burner "Roll Away Your Stone" was introduced by the banjo player Winston Marshall with the comment, "we're just gonna play some country music." The set ended with "Dustbowl Dance." My notes for this one read: "! destroyed this song."

There was no question that the band would be called out for an encore, though we all went through the motions. When Mumford and co. returned, he told us that the cheering, chanting, and clapping all made for "the single loudest thing I've ever heard." He may not have been exaggerating. But then we were asked to hush up, and the band members positioned themselves on the front edge of the stage, away from their microphones. They treated us to "Sister," and what a treat it was. I've never seen Lee's so, well, insane, and I've never heard a band attempt to sing there unmic'ed, but it went over extremely well. The audience would have done anything asked of them at this moment. The night ended with another new song, "Whispers In the Dark."

What a concert! Between sets I was less than thrilled about being there. From the chatty bunch of women around me, to the loud blond man with the buzz-cut who kept trying to get in front of me, to the embarrassing crowd responses — booing mention of the US and Australia? Come on, guys — I was hot, uncomfortable, and annoyed. I couldn't put my coat anywhere! I couldn't move! I was surrounded by talkers! GAH! But in the end Mumford & Sons made it all better; all was forgiven.

Sigh No More was released in Canada and US the day after the concert. It's available on CD and digital download (no vinyl yet.) The band is currently on tour in the UK and will be all over Europe in the spring. Their March shows are already sold out.

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