During a slight lull between songs, Mumford and Sons looked out across the sold-out crowd of the Xcel Energy Center and asked a simple question: “Where were you in (2008) when we played the 400 Club to 12 people?”
Times have certainly changed since the band’s humble beginnings — but that’s not to say they haven’t lost sight of where they came from.
“You call yourself fans,” they joked. “We were so lonely.”
Perhaps they were playing homage to those early, forlorn years or perhaps, they just wanted to give every ticket holder a bang for their buck, but one of the most memorable, and undeniable highlights of the show, was when the band left its large, fully lit stage and opted for a small, modest one in the middle of the arena, no bigger than a card table.
It was here they showed great restraint and even bigger vocal power as they sang nearly acoustically to the thousands of fans, waiting with bated breath Wednesday night.
While, yes, I’m sure it was partly in awe, it was also of necessity — any crowd noise at all and you literally wouldn’t be able to hear this delicate foursome as they all sang inward to a single 40s-style microphone, as if replicating a scene from an early Sun Records Studio recording session.
Oh, and did I mention this was all during the band’s encore?
Completing their near hour-and 45-minute set, the band’s detour began with a Bruce Springsteen cover of “I’m on Fire,” with all four squeezing themselves and their instruments on to the quaint stage.
As a special bonus and following a Marcus Mumford concession, the band asked for utter silence before heading into an a capella version of “Reminder.”
This was the night’s theme in the most literal sense — stripped down, no frills, little banter and a focus on the God-given talent that propelled this band to international stardom.
Throughout the show, with the exception of trick lighting and flashy video screens, the core was focused on the music.
The concert began with a completely black stage, forcing the audience to take in the intricate notes and the recognizable vocals of “Lover’s Eyes,” before launching into the song’s climax — and eventually bringing up the lights.
There were no pre-produced video montages to entertain you in between songs — and through the sometimes lengthy pauses while the crew readied the second or even third instrument for each band member to play. They didn’t even so much as dim the lights to keep an element of surprise. It wasn’t about that. It was about their perfectly tuned harmonies and the impressive talents of each musician.
Marcus Mumford even went back to his very first instrument and took over on drums for a few songs, including an all-out explosive rendition of “Dust Bowl Dance” (where Marcus ended the performance like a true rock star, shoving the drum kit off the platform before walking off stage). All of this, it should be noted, while keeping the lead vocals perfectly in pitch.
How? I’m still trying to figure that out.
They played several crowd favorites including “I Will Wait,” “Little Lion Man,” “Lover of the Light” and their final performance, “The Cave” — which wrapped up their set with a perfect folksy bow.
In an effort to thank their inspirations and bring the tour full circle, they brought in guests to fill out the already flushed-out harmonies — somehow making room on stage for both The Vaccines and Bear’s Den for their encore performance covering The Beatles’ “Come Together.”
The banter they did have was always appreciative, sometimes incoherent and quite lighthearted.
They commonly surveyed the fans — “How many of you have never seen our band before? … Cute, there are so many virgins here.”
And made light of the fact they never thought they’d be playing in an ice arena — “This is as close as we’ll get to the Mighty Ducks.”
It’s clear they’re serious musicians who take this opportunity to play for their fans with utter importance but just when you think they’ve taken themselves too seriously, you are reminded of their latest music video for “Hopeless Wanderer” — where the bands been replaced by funnymen Jason Bateman, Will Forte, Ed Helms and Jason Sudeikis. Or the fact that before their shows, they can often be found playing a quick pick-up game of soccer in a neighboring field.
The lyrics may be serious, the melodies can be intense but when all is said and done, these are four friends having a jam session — just now, it’s for a much, much bigger audience.