The last time that Mumford and Sons played in London it was a vast Hyde Park show supporting Arcade Fire in 2011. “It feels like it’s so long we should have a chat and catch up,” Marcus Mumford says to one of the crowd a few songs in, “what have you been doing? How were the Olympics?”
While the south-west Londoners were missing the Usain’n’Mo show, they’ve gone Adele-massive in the US; married film stars and had to endure that second album tradition of writing a follow-up on a tour bus.
The resulting LP, Babel, is released on the day of this show, making this iTunes-sponsored spot a de facto album launch party. And, though tickets have been dispensed via corporo-ballot, there’s a feverous air of fandom in the ceiling of the Roundhouse.
The stage is lit by a series of white halos with filament Soho-bistro-style bulbs. The graphic backdrop features four horses, presumably representing the four horsemen of the Mumford-led folkocalypse.
Meanwhile, the four line up democratically in a row along the front of the stage with Marcus aided by a small bass drum next to his foot. And although he sometimes retreats to the full drum-kit, as on Babel’s stand-out “Lover of the Light”, it’s the tracks like “Little Lion Man” where the rhythm is dictated by his thudding kicks that impress the most. Likewise, the initially brooding opener “Lover’s Eyes” barrels into life with the its injection.
Later, amplification is ditched for Sigh No More’s “Timshel”. For this, the four move stage front – amid shushes from the crowd – and just about make themselves heard. It’s a neat, if old, trick, that makes the room feel tiny.
Their success has exposed Mumford and Sons to levels of derision. That can be attributed to frustration with certain affected touches (referring to their violinist as a “fiddler”; “Country” Winston Marshall’s nickname; that waistcoat) as well as jealousy. But it’s also easy to be put off by the relentlessness of Marshall’s banjo, which dominates – in a live setting at least – much of their sound.
However, this is a band honed by the last few years of relentless touring. The pacing of tonight’s show is immaculate, peaking with the blowout of “Dust Bowl Dance”, in which Marshall knocks his own cap off his head, and the crowd-pleasing encore-ending hit “The Cave”.
This small-ish setting might be the perfect setting for their precision- engineered four-way harmonies, but their next UK tour takes in the country’s biggest arenas. And don’t discount a banjo-waggling return to Hyde Park, either.