After Adelaide’s hottest day on record, the refreshing folk sounds of Mumford & Sons and the soothing soul of Michael Kiwanuka provided the perfect way to cool down.
There’s something about a scorching heatwave that really binds us: struggling through a collective ordeal, we are all in it together. Gathering in the thousands at the end of such a day in the common pursuit of music seems to focus and heighten this feeling. So there was something a little different about the Thursday evening crowd, who were very ready to sing, dance and shout with abandon. And with some great music on offer, it all amounted to a very enjoyable night.
Michael Kiwanuka should really be touring in his own right. A 45 minute support slot just wasn’t enough. But we can be thankful that the Mumford & Sons tour brought the soul sensation to Adelaide for the first time. And what a set it was – let’s hope he gets back here soon in his own right. As an artist who’s not afraid of the ten minute opus, his own show without the time constraints of a support slot is really something to look forward to.
Primarily delivering a selection from his stellar 2016 Love and Hate LP, we were treated to his powerful voice, skilful song-writing and first rate band. Opening with ‘One More Night’ and moving quickly into signature tunes such ‘Black Man in a White World’ and ‘Cold Little Heart’ (made famous as the theme from TV show Big Little Lies), the set was a reminder about what a standout this album is.
A real highlight was Kiwanuka’s affecting rendering of Hendrix’s ‘May This Be Love’, which felt both familiar and fresh in the hands of his outfit and included some great guitar work. The searing solos then ended the set in the powerful crescendo of the album’s title track.
Mumford & Sons are an act with a split personality. But while this might pose a problem for most artists, the four-piece embrace the duality of their existence and, by making a virtue of it, create quite a unique experience.
On the one hand they are the foot-stomping folk act that became a worldwide wonder on the strength of ‘Little Lion Man’ ten years ago. Then with two albums in this vein (and finding themselves at the fore of the genre), the band switched direction and went electric, finding a bigger, stadium-style sound more in line with the likes of U2 or The Killers. The next two albums, including current release Delta, are cut from this cloth.
This duality was present in the band’s opening two numbers. Beginning with ’42’, the stadium rocker that kicks off the new album, Marcus Mumford paced the centre catwalk in Bono style, while switching between drums and guitars. The four piece then dispensed with the extra musicians on the larger stage and gathered in the centre of the area on the B stage for a rousing performance of ‘Little Lion Man’. These switches occurred throughout the show but were not at all jarring, just part of the band’s charm.
It was also a bold move to get your best known song out of the way in the first two numbers, but Mumford & Sons have justified confidence in their material and performance skills. It was also a clever means of galvanising the crowd, who were immediately on board.
The band’s great trick is the ability to do something to change things up just when the show threatens to lag. The playbook includes changing gears musically, pyrotechnics, and swapping instruments. The most engaging moment came during ‘Ditmas’, when frontman Marcus Mumford went right into the audience, finding his way right to the back of the arena floor and back to the main stage, and interacting with the crowd all the way along. It’s refreshing to see such trust between performer and audience – this was not just high fives from behind the security barrier but genuinely getting amongst it.
Then there was bringing out Gretta Ray, who had opened the show in the first support, slot to duet on ‘Forever’. Ray has an incredible voice and real stage presence, so it was a delight to hear more from her. Harmonising with Mumford, this was a moment of clear beauty.
The encore was another treat, the four-piece gathering on the B stage around a single condenser microphone for two quieter, unadorned numbers. It was stark and stunning stuff, particularly ‘Where Are You Now?’, a bonus track from 2012’s Babel that was probably the highlight of the whole night.
Moving back to finish with the entire ensemble on the main stage, we then got to hear more from Michael Kiwanuka, who joined in a smouldering cover of Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’. Crowd-pleasers, ‘The Cave’ and ‘I Will Wait’ then followed, the latter drawing most in the stands to their feet for a dance. We then cooled off with the slowly building dynamics of the new album’s title track to end the show.
Whether you prefer your Mumford & Sons in stadium mode or as a more intimate folk act, both were present through the evening. The folk band is still probably the dominant character in most people’s minds, but the variety provided by the alter ego of the past two albums makes for a nuanced and highly entertaining gig.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor