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.

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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