Mumford & Sons first formed in dingy venues in west London, but they’ve always managed to maintain that campfire intimacy even as their crowds have swelled in size. So it’s no surprise, then, that Marcus Mumford‘s return “home” tonight for the second of two sold-out shows at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in support of his recent debut solo album ‘(self-titled)’ continues that tradition.
It’s very much business as usual to begin with, with Mumford performing his band’s ‘Lovers’ Eyes’ and ‘Awake My Soul’ and quickly uniting the room with warm, familiar singalongs. The atmosphere shifts, though, as he and his four-piece backing band then begin the brooding folk of solo song ‘Cannibal’, with the crowd “sssh-ing” anyone talking even a little too loudly. The swaying track sees Mumford sing about the sexual abuse he experienced as a child before building to a big, cathartic rock crescendo. Following track ‘Grace’ is a touch looser as Mumford channels his inner Tom Petty, but given that it’s written about his mum finding out about his abuse via song, it’s still an intense listen. Speaking to NME earlier this year, Mumford explained how that level of honesty set the bar for this project: “This record is so deeply personal. It’s changed my songwriting forever.”
All 10 of ‘(self-titled)”s tracks are performed tonight, flickering between quiet, determined moments of vulnerability and bombastic rock’n’roll excess as Mumford sings of shame, forgiveness, loneliness and hope. Whenever things get a little too much, either for the crowd or for Mumford, he cuts through the tension with a quip (“Solo album? I’ve never needed more help in my life”), crowd banter (“I thought it was a medical emergency, but you were just trying to embarrass your friend. Brilliant”) or by singing a song everyone in the room knows. There’s even a snippet of the Ted Lasso theme (“All people really want to hear is, ‘Yeaaaaah’, [then] skip intro,” he explains) as well as a gorgeous rendition of the traditional folk song ‘Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)’.
None of it takes away, however, from how hard his solo album closer ‘How’ hits tonight to end his main set. From there, Mumford introduces the “fuck-around” section of the night: a giddy take on Taylor Swift’s ‘Cowboy Like Me’ kicks things off, before two tracks from his The New Basement Tapes project turn proceedings into a folksy, funk-driven jam session.
Throughout the night there are flickers of that togetherness that Mumford & Sons so often inspire. But, for the most part, this show is a powerful yet personal experience, with Mumford very much baring his soul. It ends with him alone on stage for an unplugged performance of his band’s ‘I Will Wait’, warning: “It’s going to be quiet.” But as the crowd slowly find their voice, the Mumford & Sons classic conjures an almost-spiritual sense of community in the room to round off a very special evening.
Marcus Mumford played:
‘Lovers’ Eyes’ (Mumford & Sons cover)
‘Awake My Soul’ (Mumford & Sons cover)
‘Better Off High’
‘Dink’s Song (Fare Thee Well)’
‘The Cave’ (Mumford & Sons cover)
‘Dangerous Game ‘
‘Go In Light’
‘Cowboy Like Me’ (Taylor Swift cover)
‘When I Get My Hands On You’ (The New Basement Tapes cover)
‘Kansas City’ (The New Basement Tapes cover)
‘I Will Wait’ (Mumford & Sons cover)