Head son Marcus Mumford.
Head son Marcus Mumford.
Jim Bricker

Sigh No More

Live Shots

It's hard to think of a band that's been so heavily vilified over such a short period of time as Mumford & Sons. Even perennial doormats like Nickelback and Coldplay were given a pass for an album or two, but almost from the moment the Sons' debut album, Sigh No More, was released, they've been slagged by fellow musicians as well as critics and the general public.

Their crimes? Adopting a faux working-class stance (all four are apparently from well-to-do families), appropriating the trappings of folk music with little attention to the craft, inspiring bands like the Lumineers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and — perhaps most egregiously — not paying their dues.

None of this should matter if the band can bring it live. Mocking their upbringings or earnestness or choice of attire is well and good, but can be easily refuted by a bravura performance. Unfortunately, I'm not prepared to make that case, because from where I was standing, one significant member of the band didn't have his head fully in the game.

I'm looking at you, Marcus Mumford.

The band opened with "Lovers' Eyes" from second album Babel (which won the Grammys' 2013 Album of the Year), then launched into "I Will Wait." Bit of a surprise move there, seeing as how it's their biggest single to date. Turns out M&S mix their hits in with lesser-known tracks as a matter of course. "White Blank Page," for example, was the fifth cut, followed two songs later by "Little Lion Man." I'll give them this: There aren't many times in your life you'll get to hear 16,500 people singing, "I really fucked it up this time" at the top of their lungs.

Up until the show, I'd only listened to the odd M&S song here and there, but seeing them live really drove some of those aforementioned criticisms home. Every song, it seems, is an earnestly world-weary ode to eternal, rustic love that follows the verse/STRUM/verse format (they're like the anti-Pixies), rising in crescendo with "Aaaaaa"s thrown in for good measure. "Familiar" would be how you'd charitably describe it.

But again, a sold-out Pavilion crowd would seem to indicate you're pleasing somebody. The group's fans are nearly as enthusiastic as their detractors are spiteful. I'd be willing to forgive the repetitiveness of the music if at any time the front man looked like he wanted to be there. Throughout the show, but especially during the darker numbers ("Thistle and Weeds"), Marcus frequently looked flat-out miserable.

At first I thought it was the weather-inappropriate choice of attire (jeans and a long-sleeved denim shirt?), but my wife insisted he was fighting with his wife (actress Carey Mulligan, yet more haterade). I laughed this off at first, but as the set wound down and Marcus distractedly knocked over his drum kit after the closing number ("Dust Bowl Dance"), I had to wonder.

It ended up being a fairly perfunctory set. After closing with several of their bigger numbers ("Roll Away Your Stone"), they came out for a brief encore. First was an acoustic cover of "I'm on Fire," and the crowd mostly acceded to Marcus's suggestion that they remain quiet. Finally, Sigh No More hit "The Cave."

And that was that. Mumford & Sons may be the only band not hampered in the slightest by the Pavilion's 11 p.m. curfew. We left the show wishing the guys would explore some of those aforementioned dark places. Two albums of quasi-folk are well and good, but if Mumford & Sons really want to prove everyone wrong, branching out musically wouldn't be a bad start.

And Marcus, buy your wife some flowers.

Listen Up!

Healing Sounds
Inside the fascinating world of music therapy.

Leila Chemam-Alfaro

Elton John once said, "Music has healing power; it has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours." This tendency to distract people from their problems forms the science behind the music therapy field, a burgeoning subsector of behavioral health care that is popping up in institutional settings from hospitals and prisons to schools and retirement communities.

Practicing music therapists can be found all around Houston. Just last month, Texas Children's Hospital announced the opening of a music-therapy department, designed to treat babies in the neonatal intensive care and inpatient rehabilitation units.

Contemporary music therapy traces its origins back to the aftermath of World War II, when musicians began taking their craft into the medical setting to entertain and soothe wounded veterans. Patients who were exposed to the charitable performances showed such significant improvement that administrators took notice. From there, a unique form of therapy began to grow in both popularity and scope.

Within the past several years, interest in that field has grown exponentially. According to the American Music Therapy Association, more than 5,000 board-certified music therapists are currently practicing in the U.S.

Bill Matney, who is pursuing his doctorate in music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, has been in the field for 12 years. He first became interested in music therapy in college, but prior to that was a performing musician in both Houston and Austin.

In the early '90s, Matney played drums for the local hardcore band Refuse to Fall and later pursued musical projects in styles ranging from ska and big-band to Japanese Taiko drumming and West African djembe.

It is Matney's range of skills and accomplishments as a musician that enables him to practice as a therapist. Music therapists must be able to play several instruments to be eligible for licensure.

Matney explains that this capability qualifies the therapist to choose from a variety of media for applying treatment, and it is through this multidimensional application that music therapy works.

"The music therapist chooses the music, because within that choice, there exists a mechanism — specific to the client's needs — that facilitates change," Matney says. "The music therapist is intimately familiar with the music selection, and has chosen it with this mechanism in mind."

Music therapy has become a popular choice for the treatment of children and adults with autism and other developmental or learning disorders. Both music therapy and art therapy — another recently expanding field — are often incorporated into treatment plans for special-needs children. For instance, autistic children — who struggle with communication — are encouraged to express themselves through artistic rather than verbal means.

One of the most promising aspects of music therapy is its wide scope of applications. According to Matney — who has worked with patients in a variety of treatment settings, from addiction recovery to grief counseling — the only requirement for benefiting from music therapy is a need that can be met through it.

"In many cases, the clients I worked with could not sit in a room together without arguments," he says. "If I am able to create an environment that allows them to interact appropriately in a unique way, then I've begun a process that is working." Anyone interested in finding Houston-area music-therapy providers should visit the Music Therapy Center online at musictherapycenter.org.

Live Shots

Just Can't Get Enough
Depeche Mode was leatherier than ever at The Woodlands September 18.

Pete Vonder Haar

People talk about how improbable it is that Keith Richards is still alive to tour with the Rolling Stones, but for a time there in the mid-'90s, it seemed equally unlikely Depeche Mode would ever hit the road again. Singer Dave Gahan suffered a heart attack in 1993, attempted suicide and finally had to be revived by paramedics following a heroin overdose in 1996. Richards may have been an addict longer, but to my knowledge he has never had to be brought back from the dead.

Of late, DM has settled into a familiar cycle, releasing new albums every few years and embarking on lucrative tours. Of course, as with most bands whose peak years are well behind them (and whether they like it or not), Mode is largely a nostalgia act. Folks who abandoned the group circa Ultra may not even be able to name their recent efforts; hint: The latest is the Violator-ish Delta Machine.

But really, who cares? None of that matters much when you're arguably the greatest electronic band of all time, having influenced everyone from a-ha to Rammstein. Besides all that, Gahan's been clean for quite some time now. And if this show is any indication, he's back at the top of his game, putting on a sinewy, animated performance as Depeche Mode held a steamy CWMP crowd in the palms of their black-lacquered hands.

Delta Machine's "Welcome to My World" opened the show, with Gahan and fellow DM lifers Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher emerging in full leather/vinyl/something-probably-really-freaking-hot regalia. This was followed by "Angel" from the same album, following its track order, and might have led some to worry that DM was about to play the album in its entirety. Fortunately Gahan removed his jacket at this point, distracting everyone.

My personal high point may have been the third song, "Walking in My Shoes" from the (in my mind, anyway) unjustly unappreciated Songs of Faith and Devotion. More to the point, from that song on, the crowd was Gahan's. Those abs! Mercy.

Next up was "Precious" from 2005's Playing the Angel, accompanied by videos of cute doggies doing, well, cute dog things. How very precious indeed. Crowd-pleasers "Black Celebration" and "Policy of Truth" followed, reminding us how extensive DM's catalog really is. Some Great Reward was ignored entirely, even though it contains at least four songs that would've brought roars of approval from the crowd.

Well, most of them. I really can't stand "Somebody."

"Heaven" was also accompanied by the song's music video, which is just lazy. But the band's equivalent of a Mortal Kombat chain combo attack closed out the main set: "A Question of Time," "Enjoy the Silence" and "Personal Jesus." The two Violator cuts may be a little hoary, but still resonate. However, as a friend of mine commented about "Question," maybe it's time to retire the songs about 15-year-old girls, especially when you're old enough to be their grandfather (see also: "Christine Sixteen").

The encore started off with "Heaven" (acoustic Gore) and a disappointingly subdued "Halo" (fuck a "Goldfrapp remix"). "Just Can't Get Enough" was next, thankfully the only throwback to the band's "deet-doot-deet" early-'80s work, and bless Gahan's heart for acting like he doesn't hate this song with the fire of a thousand suns.

Closing out the show: "I Feel You" and "Never Let Me Down Again," the greatest song about cars and trousers ever written. As has been the case since 101, a now-thoroughly-drenched Gahan led the crowd in waving their arms along to the song. It wasn't quite ""Radio Ga-Ga," but really, nobody seemed to mind.

Ask Willie D

Gentleman's Code
Don't live your life like a Geto Boys song, advises our Geto Boy columnist.

Dear Willie D:

I really enjoy your music and I try to emulate and do things in your songs. But after reading your advice column, I realized that you were probably just joking or you were only like that in the past. I'm 21 years old, and I met a girl through my friends at a bar. She was really friendly. But her ex who went to my school messaged me and said, don't trust her because she cheated on him.

One time she was telling me that my new pickup line to pick up girls when I go to bars with her should be, "Sex is a beautiful thing; want me to show you?" I told her it was too direct and corny, but she claimed girls would sleep with me if I said it. Then she dropped something and I tried emulating your lyrics. Instead of picking it up, I just slapped her butt and she almost slipped. She kept asking me to come to her house, but trying to emulate you, I acted like a jerk and said no, and she would keep saying, why not?

I wanted to take the jerk thing to the next level, so as she was making me eggs one morning, I said, "We have no chemistry" and she seemed upset, but didn't respond. At a party she invited me to, she said that she wanted to "play-fight" me, but I refused and she punched me a few times, and I told her to chill. She seems to want to prove she's tough.

After all this, I was at her house watching TV and she had fallen asleep. I knocked on her bedroom door at seven in the morning, woke her up and asked her if I could sleep in her bed, and she said no. I couldn't believe it. Willie, does being the bad boy work for women, especially younger women? Because I'm trying to be the guy from "I'm Not a Gentleman" and "Gangsta of Love," it only makes females hate me.

Factitious Jerk:

You are a funny dude. Women don't like jerks; they like bad boys. I guess I'm sort of a refined bad boy. While I did exhibit some characteristics of being un-gentlemanlike in my younger days, as with many songs, "I'm Not a Gentlemen" was exaggerated for entertainment purposes. The intent of the song was not for you to treat women like dirt; it was to not allow women to treat you like a doormat.

Women like challenges. They — especially the younger ones — want someone they can fix, which never happens. The good guy is dependable and steady while the bad boy is unpredictable and indifferent to her needs. She knows she could lose him at any moment, so she fights harder to prove she is worthy of him. The key for guys is adopting the bad-boy traits that women love such as confidence and spontaneity and balancing the bad ones like cockiness and self-absorption.

Love is not supposed to hurt. Love is not disrespectful. Love is not disloyal. Like men, most women don't realize that until later in life. I wrote "I'm Not a Gentleman" and Gangsta of Love" when I was 22 years old. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Damn, man, if I had known you were going to act out the lyrics in my songs word for word, I would have also told you to pay the note on my mortgage and buy me a fresh pair of Nikes twice a month.

Ask Willie D appears Thursday mornings on Rocks Off.


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