On the Road Home with Mumford & Sons
It was this feeling of return, and prodigal return at that, which lifted the roof of Barclays on Tuesday. Most of the time, Mumford and Sons made their venue feel like a giant church.
"I Will Wait," the lead single off Babel, was their second song. The roof was already long gone as we all sang together as loud as we could:
And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of darkness
Which we've known
Will blow away with this new sun
And I'll kneel down
Wait for now
And I'll kneel down
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you
Of course, other times it didn't feel like church, exactly. Especially during the muddle-filled minutes between songs. There was the bluish smoke, there were the F-bombs lobbed off the stage with flagrant regularity (not least in the chorus of "Little Lion Man," from the band's first album Sigh No More). There was the pogoing, and obviously there was quite a lot of beer.
These facts disturb some potential fans; like every other band on their way up who sing about the Lord by name, Mumford & Sons is constantly dogged by the rock-and-roll version of the Messianic secret: "Are you a Christian band?" Time and again, they're asked to come out. Now that they've won so big, they'll be asked more often. Among the faithful, there has long been a certain drive to claim big acts as their own; and among the rest of the world, and particularly in the press, there is an instinct to make the point clear one way or another.
So far Mumford & Sons have answered carefully, identifying with mystery and faith instead of religion or doctrine. And as a meticulous student of the past, Marcus Mumford has surely studied his rock and roll history. He's read what happened to Dylan after Slow Train Coming. He's read how freeing Achtung Baby was for U2, and for Bono in particular; he knows All That You Can't Leave Behind and "Magnificent" couldn't have been written without it. He knows there is a right time and a right place, and that it's not after the second album.
Judging from his own abandon on Tuesday, he also knows the question is completely beside the point. Mumford & Sons closed their Barclay show with "The Weight," by the Band, the same song they'd played at the Grammy Awards ceremony. It sounded old. Of course, according to my dad, it already sounded old on the day it was released, in 1968. "The Weight" is about an ill-fated pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or to the Martin Guitar factory, depending on whom you ask—but in the end it's about beating the devil and getting home.
Maybe the highest compliment one could pay to Mumford & Sons is that after a two-hour set of originals, and after only two albums—two albums!—this cover of a cornerstone of the rock-and-roll canon fit in sonically, lyrically, spiritually, communally, perfectly.
It sounded like they'd written it themselves.
Todd Dorman last wrote for Christianity Today about Downton Abbey.