Mumford & Sons Fire Up A Sparse But Appreciative Toyota Center Crowd

Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons Photo by Jennifer Lake
Mumford & Sons
October 8, 2019
Toyota Center

There’s a story about the time Mark E. Smith — founder and singer of legendary post-punk band The Fall — threw a bottle at a young Mumford & Sons when they were rehearsing for a festival. Ignore the cognitive discombobulation required to imagine those two sharing a stage, but instead go right to the contempt necessary to hurl a bottle at someone.

Par for the course for Smith (RIP), but still.

Marcus Mumford and company probably seemed like easy targets, singing earnest and uncomplicated songs about love and ... little lion men, but Tuesday night — in front of a relatively meager weeknight crowd — the band showed Houston you underestimate them at your peril.

Mumford & Sons were hitting the Toyota Center for the first time (previous shows were held at The Woodlands, with varying degrees of success). They certainly played to the crowd, with keyboardist Ben Lovett remarking that coming to Texas was "saving the best for last." Mumford even took a few minutes to express his appreciation at sharing a venue with James Harden, he of the "extraordinary beard."

Was it bullshit? Possibly, but I choose to believe the scraggly-chinned Mumford was honestly in awe of Harden's whiskers.

click to enlarge Mumford with not quite the beard strength of a James Harden. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER LAKE
Mumford with not quite the beard strength of a James Harden.
Photo by Jennifer Lake
They opened and closed the show with tracks from their 2018 release, Delta (“Guiding Light” and the title song), and the set list heavily favored the latest album, with decent results. Delta strays even further from the band’s folk-ish origins, veering into electronica and even spoken word. Some of last night's efforts (“Beloved”) worked better than others ("Darkness Visible," complete with William Styron monologue).

But they also featured several cuts from their debut album, Sigh No More, celebrating its 10th anniversary. And it's to the band's credit (or should be) that they want to grow musically. I described M&S as “lizard brain music” in my review of their 2016 Houston gig, because they'll hone in on a single chord, or pluck the same guitar string for a minute (“The Wild”), in searching for that dopamine rush. But that’s where their strength lies, if that makes sense.

It's because their biggest songs provoke such a visceral emotional reaction – the call and response of “Little Lion Man” (segueing right into "Babel" last night), or the gradual, major key buildup of a song like "Ditmas” – that suggest maybe Marcus Mumford and company are more savvy than their critics believe them to be.

Looking at last night's set list, it's also interesting to see how adroitly the band mixed the new numbers in with their bigger hits. An abbreviated runtime didn't hurt (they clocked in at a little over 90 minutes), but throwing in an arena lap by Marcus (during "Ditmas," just like at their 2016 show) and sprinkling tunes like "The Cave" and "Believe" in with the new stuff is pretty canny.

They were even able to (briefly) shut up a Houston audience during the single-mic acoustic mini-set at the beginning of their encore, playing relative rarities "Timshel" and "Reminder" to almost complete silence. Or maybe everybody was still in shock after the Astros' Game 4 loss in the ALDS.

It's refreshing seeing a band like Mumford & Sons begin to branch out from their successful formula and try to make a go of new sounds, diminishing album sales be damned. Can they keep pulling arena-sized crowds with sonic diversions like Delta? Time will tell, but I'm honestly curious to see how it works out.
click to enlarge Mixing in new numbers with their bigger hits. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER LAKE
Mixing in new numbers with their bigger hits.
Photo by Jennifer Lake
Personal Bias: Lord help me, I was pumped when they played "Ditmas."

The Crowd: They shall know us by the trail of Astros jerseys.

Overheard in the Crowd: Nothing really, but I really enjoyed the old guy next to me who filmed a good chunk of the show and refused to stand up, which would've solved the problem of people on the stairs walking through half of his footage.

Random Notebook Dump: "The lead singer for Gang of Youths looks like a tall Kit Harington, the bastard."

Guiding Light
Little Lion Man
Lover of the Light
Tompkins Square Park
Blind Leading the Blind
Rose of Sharon
The Cave
Slip Away
Picture You
Darkness Visible
The Wolf

Awake My Soul
Blood (The Middle East cover) with Gang of Youths
I Will Wait
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar