A diverse line-up of artists including Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins), Angie McMahon, Michael Kiwanuka and Leon Bridges were guesting before the headlining of Mumford & Sons to a massive crowd at Western Springs in Auckland last night. An organisation called Gentlemen of the Road gave the international folk/rock band Mumford & Sons a platform to create and design their own events, auction to charity and invite a range of artists to join them on the performing stage. It was more like a mini music festival with crowds arriving at 5pm for a big night of entertainment.
Into a blaze of late afternoon sunshine, Hollie Fullbrook from Tiny Ruins kicked off the show with a solo spot on the main stage. Somewhat dwarfed by the arena style lighting rigs and extended stage, Fullbrook offered up the beautiful One Million Flowers with her characteristic finger-picking style punctuated with resonant strums. A delicate sound and a nice unfolding into the evening, she charmed with other songs such as How Much and Olympic Girls, the title song of Tiny Ruins’ upcoming album.
Next up on stage was a first time visitor to NZ shores, Angie McMahon, ex The Fabric and now on her solo career with debut single in 2017 and further singles Missing Me, Keeping Time and Helpless in 2018. What a knockout voice! Here’s a singer who has intimate tones that grumble and groan before intensifying into powerful Alanis Morrisette-style rock wails.
Sporting hi-top 1970s denim flares and sparkly make-up (that she shared was melting in the Auckland sun), she drew the audience in further with anecdotal introductions. Her songs got personal: “this song was written in response to having to explain basic feminism to a 24 year old dude… ‘I wanna get dirty now that I’ve got clean’ “. She also covered Fleetwood Mac’s Silver Screen and original Pasta "…. my bedroom is a disaster…”. We hope to hear more from this artist in her own headline show in NZ sometime soon.
Michael Kiwanuka and band rocked onto the stage next, opening with One More Night lifting the energy and the volume with his fresh and soulful sound. Kiwanuka has a voice that comes from a huge heritage of artists, story-telling and history. He has a direct authentic sound that rings with Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding but is still very much his own. By the third song Black Man In A White World, the crowd was with him... clapping along to this fantastic soul song which could very well be his anthem. The irony of an arena full of mainly white New Zealanders singing along to this did strike me momentarily…
We heard some other beautiful moments from Kiwanuka’s band including sweet harmonies and some nice acoustic playing on a 12-string. Then they finished with the catchy You Can’t Bring Me Down with the searing lyrics “You can’t steal the things that God has given me, you can’t bring me down”. Sincerely hope we get another visit from this fantastic artist and his band soon as well!
Leon Bridges was next up and came on in a blaze of neo disco. Opening with Bad Bad News, a great hook song to bring the crowd into his sound. However, a few audio balance issues developed during his set and the subtleties and interest wasn’t always easy for audience to grasp. However, his dance vibe and personality filled the space and the crowd welcomed the pick up of tempo. Here is a new take on the best of Motown sound, Bridges worked the stage with his blend of R&B. The romantic Beyond settled into a nice groove with the words “She shines me up like gold on my arm”.
All the elements of a contemporary artist delivering a fresh take on retro sounds were present in Bridges' energetic delivery. The gorgeous gospel backing vocals added a lot in River with Bridges showing a voice that has the potential for huge versatility. Combined with a flare for showmanship, Leon Bridges is a name to watch!
Time for the big event headliners of the evening, Mumford & Sons. A buzz went around the crowd as Marcus Mumford arrived on stage with Ben Lovett on keyboards, Winston Marshall on banjo and Ted Dwane on bass guitar to begin their show. Declaring their cards straight off with the opening song 42 from their 2018 album Delta, it gave opportunity to hear their new "sound" right from the start. A great show starter, 42 went from acoustic intimacy into an arena style big sound, synonymous with the band’s new shift... with Mumford himself on the extended stage, letting rip on the drums was a sight to see.
The band knew their fans wanted the older songs and the iconic Little Lion Man from 2009 engendered a purr of appreciation from the crowd. This got everyone on-side and set the evening into full swing. Mumford’s voice is an asset of solid gold... every note tells a story and along with the signature banjo by Marshall, it defines and still maintains the core Mumford sound for a lot of fans.
Enriching their offerings, then was Babel title song from their second album, then Lover Of The Light which built into an exciting crescendo and raised the blood pressure of many party goers. Mumford multitasked vocals, guitar and kick drum with ease.
The sound balance was great and music filled the bowl of Western Springs with richness and clarity. However the big screens alongside the stage blipped and re-set during the evening which added an unexpected collage effect to the visuals.
In Lover Of The Light, we see the beginnings of the bands’ broadening direction into a bigger arena sound. Big synth sounds were added and percussion was more rock oriented with less kick drum... the banjo was put aside for the electric guitar. The band know how to craft great drama and build through a song so this had more depth.
Then in Picture You from their latest album we heard real indie rock sounds with synth rhythms and another rock style build. The crowd’s response to this wasn’t the big party wow response but they were intently listening. This newer style does mix up the tones and give the band a different scope, and this is a band who know how to use different styles if their fans choose to engage.
But when Mumford & Sons returned to their folk sound in Ghosts That We Knew, the contrast was quite beautiful. Really this is a band who know how to sit into the mood. With their trademark finger-picking style, acoustic double bass and violin solo, this returned us to a more intimate style. There was a truly effective shift of emotion. This prepared the ground for The Cave from their debut album, and the crowd ripped into a big cheer! I wonder if their fans will ever let the band move on completely from their original sound. The band added synth sounds in this version but I’m not sure if it sounded authentic... the effect was more like a happy hoedown.
With Ditmas from the Wilder Mind album, the crowd again heard a successful updating of the band's sound... Also an opportunity to hear some of the biggest drum and rock sounds of the evening. This kind of sound have lifted Mumford & Sons from their acoustic London beginnings into their current international status. It also allowed Mumford himself to go on a walkabout through the audience, followed by camera before it lost sight of him. A nice bit of meet-up time with the audience! He didn’t wander back again for a good ten minutes and a public service announcement from the stage had to be delivered for him to return and to which the crowd roared warmly in response.
Then came my personal highlight of the evening, Slip Away where the audience got to enjoy the sweetness of vocalist Mumford’s upper range. This was also from their new album and a nice synthesis of their old and new style. This was the prelude to their final number of the headlining set, The Wolf which drew fantastic energy from the whole band and swept the crowd in exhilarating style.
The band returned for an excellent encore set with Awake My Soul right from the heart of their first album. Following this was the ecstatic I Will Wait and this was the biggest crowd anthem of the night... a perfect encore before finishing with Delta to press home the new album’s title song.
A glorious blaze of lights gave Mumford & Sons a full spectrum of arena possibilities to explode our experience and ensure they stay in our hearts and minds until their next visit to our New Zealand shores.